State Policy Network
States reform occupational licensing laws to make it easier for Americans to get jobs
To help millions of Americans more easily find work, a network of policy organizations has been working to reform job licensing laws in their states.

Finding a job is hard work. It takes time and effort to search for the right opportunity, fill out applications, and find time to interview. But millions of Americans face an additional barrier in the form of an occupational license. An occupational (or job) license is a permission slip from the government to work. These licenses often require a worker to complete hundreds of hours of training, take a test, and pay a fee.

As the Institute for Justice points out, in the 1950s, one in 20 workers needed an occupational license to work. Today, it’s one in three. States decide what jobs require an occupational license, and each state is different. But most states require licenses for certain jobs, such as skin care specialists, cosmetologists, and manicurists. There’s some unusual professions you wouldn’t think need a job license, including interior designers, makeup artists, travel agents, and florists.

These licenses are burdensome for all workers, but they especially hurt low-income people who often don’t have the time and money to dedicate towards earning a job license.

What’s more, most states do not accept the out-of-state qualifications of professionals from other states. This means workers who move have to go through a lengthy application process in order to re-license in their new state.

To help millions of Americans more easily find work, a network of policy organizations across the country has been working to reform the licensing laws in their state. During the recent legislative sessions, several states have reduced licensing requirements for certain professions or passed policies that accept out-of-state licenses.


In April 2021, the Florida Legislature passed a bill that prevents local governments from imposing local occupational licenses. The legislation makes it clear that only states can enforce licensing requirements. The James Madison Institute noted this will help small businesses and entrepreneurs throughout the state.


The Kansas Governor signed a bill that ensures workers have a clear pathway to licensure as they look to build their lives and careers in Kansas. Under this new law, Kansas will accept out-of-state licenses in good standing—which means a worker will not have to go through the time-consuming licensing process again just to continue working in the Sunflower State. This bipartisan legislation has its origins in the Breaking Down Barriers to Work Act, a law designed by the Goldwater Institute and the Institute for Justice. Goldwater noted that with this bill, Kansas has the opportunity to support America’s skilled workforce at a time when workers are facing unprecedented challenges due to the global pandemic.


The Louisiana Legislature passed a bill that grants the dependents and spouses of medical professionals’ licensing reciprocity. These dependents and spouses that are licensed to work in another state can now work in Louisiana without having to go through all the steps of obtaining a new license. The Pelican Institute for Public Policy noted that while this is step forward, it doesn’t solve the underlying issue. Pelican added that Louisiana’s problem doesn’t stem from the fact that it’s hard to move in with a license, it’s that Louisiana licenses too many professions in the first place. 


The Mackinac Center for Public Policy encouraged Michigan lawmakers to pass a package of bills allowing military members, veterans, and their families to use their training hours and out-of-state licenses to fulfill licensing mandates in Michigan. This bill package was reintroduced in 2021 with support from the Michigan Governor and a bipartisan group of lawmakers and passed overwhelmingly.


The Mississippi Governor signed legislation that will make Mississippi the first state in the south to provide universal licensing reciprocity. This means the Magnolia State will now accept job licenses from other states. Empower Mississippi’s Grant Callen, Russ Latino, and Steven Randle and Mississippi Center for Public Policy’s Jameson Taylor were on hand for the signing ceremony. MCPP interviewed the law’s author, Rep. Becky Currie, about the importance of the legislation and the impact it will have on Mississippi.

But Mississippi didn’t stop there. In another win for hardworking Mississippi families, some job licenses were removed entirely. Thanks to the efforts of the Mississippi Justice Institute—the legal arm of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy—eyebrow threaders, eyelash technicians, and makeup artists can open for business without obtaining esthetician licenses. The new law prevents the Mississippi State Board of Cosmetology from imposing fines, civil or criminal penalties on unlicensed threaders, lash technicians, or makeup artists, or regulating the practice of those services. The Mississippi Justice Institute noted now these niche beauty providers won’t have to pay thousands of dollars to attend hundreds of hours of classes which are unrelated to their practice. The Associated Press highlighted the work of MJI and the stories of their clients here.


The Platte Institute helped advance a bill that repeals registration requirements for locksmiths. The bill was passed and signed by Governor on April 7, 2021. Nebraska also passed a law that deregulates licenses for real estate appraisers. Platte has been pioneering occupational licensing reform in Nebraska for five years and played a big role in passing these reforms.

New Hampshire

The New Hampshire Legislature voted to decriminalize home haircuts. Before this law passed, New Hampshire residents who cut hair without a license committed a misdemeanor, and any company that had its employees do so also committed a felony. The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy noted removing the criminal penalty for doing your family’s hair is long overdue—but it’s a small step. Unnecessary criminal penalties remain woven throughout New Hampshire’s occupational licensing laws.


The Ohio Legislature passed two bills that would make it easier for nurses and doctors to work in Ohio by joining the Nurse Licensure Compact and the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact. The Buckeye Institute testified in support of the polices in these bills and called for these prudent reforms throughout the pandemic, noting the state desperately needs occupational licensing reform and these reforms would improve the status quo. However, Buckeye knows the best policy for Ohio is universal occupational license recognition, and is encouraging policymakers to eliminate unnecessary barriers to employment for people moving to Ohio. The Legislature is considering a Buckeye-inspired bill that would do just that and would open Ohio’s doors to skilled workers.

South Carolina

South Carolina passed a law that enables licensed barbers to apply for a license to operate out of a mobile unit, bringing their services to wherever they are needed. The Palmetto Promise Institute noted that as the coronavirus continues to take its toll on the job market, they are excited to see South Carolina open up new avenues for jobs and small businesses in this industry.


Libertas Institute helped pass legislation that exempts mobile hair-dryers from occupational licensing under the cosmetology act. Libertas championed this bill and told stories of those who’d be impacted by the reform. Libertas also advanced the concept of occupational licensing review, which led to the Utah Governor’s Executive Order 2021-01—an administrative review of all occupational licenses.

Related Reading

What is universal licensing recognition?
State Policy Network

Spotlight on state legislative sessions: State think tanks work to improve job opportunities for American families
State Policy Network

Policy Issues: Economy, Jobs
Organization: State Policy Network