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

Donna Harris was crushed when she opened the letter from the Mississippi Department of Health. The note said she was not licensed and therefore faces jail time and fines if she continues to give weight-loss advice to her clients.

Donna is a certified personal trainer who received her bachelor’s degree in nutrition. In early 2020, she launched an eight-week weight loss program. Seventy people signed up. But before she could get started, the Department of Health let her know she wasn’t licensed to run such a program—even though Donna made it clear to clients she was not a registered dietician, and would only be providing weight loss strategies, not information to treat medical conditions. In order to give weight loss advice, the Department said she would have to earn a license, which requires 1,200 hours of training—something she doesn’t need or have time to complete.

All Americans want the opportunity to make an honest living and provide for their families. But for thousands of people like Donna, a government barrier—in the form of an occupational license—makes that pursuit difficult.

An occupational license is a permission slip from the government to work. These licenses impact nearly three in 10 American workers. Most barbers, cosmetologists, manicurists, and skin care specialists, for example, all need a license to work. In order to obtain an occupational license, an individual has to complete hundreds of hours of training, take a test, and often pay a fee.

Proponents of occupational licenses argue they are needed for safety reasons, but research shows little evidence that government licenses protect public health and safety or improve the quality of products or services. In fact, licensing laws grant a monopoly to licensed workers in an occupation, which shields those workers from competition. These laws hurt the poor and disadvantaged the most, who often choose professions that need a job license.

An additional hurdle for American workers: Most states don’t recognize job licenses from other states

But overly burdensome licensing itself is just one part of the problem. Even workers who earn an occupational license will face another barrier if they decide to move: Most states do not accept licenses granted in other states! For example, if you are a registered cosmetologist in Nevada and need to move to another state, that new state will probably not accept your Nevada cosmetology license. You’ll have to go through the whole licensing process again in the new state—which may include exams, fees, and training—just to continue working.

Fortunately, there’s a network of policy organizations working at the state and local level to eliminate these onerous licensing practices. Many of these groups are working on something called universal licensing recognition—a policy that allows a state to recognize occupational licenses from other states. And as states continue to grapple with the challenges of the coronavirus, there’s a widening window of opportunity to reform these harmful laws.

The coronavirus crisis: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for reform

Photo credit: Southwest Airlines

As the pandemic began, governors across the country issued executive orders that temporarily removed laws that prevent a state from recognizing out-of-state job licenses. Doctors and nurses were in short supply, and hospitals needed all the help they could get to treat sick patients.

You may remember the picture of the Southwest flight full of doctors and nurses on their way to help New York City, a coronavirus hotspot at the time. Before the New York Governor lifted restrictions on occupational licensing, those healthcare providers wouldn’t have been able to treat patients in the Empire State. Removing these laws helped save lives, and not just in New York, but across the country. After seeing the benefits of suspending licensing laws, many states decided to make this temporary policy permanent.

This is an opportune moment for reform not only because people are seeing the benefits of universal recognition. States are also trying to recover lost jobs from the pandemic. At a time when millions of Americans are unemployed, states should be doing all they can to make it easier, not harder, to find employment. Occupational licensing reform is one way states can grow their economies and help their residents get back to work.

Eight states (Arizona, Montana, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Utah, Iowa, New Jersey, and Idaho) have enacted laws that recognize out-of-state job licenses for most occupations. That number will likely increase as state legislative sessions continue. Ten states (Alaska, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming) are considering legislation that will recognize job licenses from other states.

Below is a snapshot of state policy organizations working with lawmakers to enact universal recognition and reform occupational licensing laws for the residents of their state.


In 2019, Arizona become the first state to recognize out-of-state occupational licenses—so far, more than 2,400 workers have benefited from this Goldwater Institute reform. Ten other states have since adopted a version of recognition and dozens more have introduced bills to reduce burdensome licensure.

Universal recognition is an essential step to getting government out of the way of America’s skilled and dedicated workforce. This legislative session, Goldwater remains dedicated to advancing this reform nationwide. By providing data, state-specific research, testimony, and real-time support during legislative sessions, the Goldwater team is committed to supporting other state think tanks as they pursue recognition in their own states. 


Reforming occupational licensing is one of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy’s top priorities this legislative session. The Connecticut Legislature is considering a bill that would allow Connecticut residents and military spouses who are licensed for a job in other states and are in good standing to be licensed in Connecticut. The Yankee Institute commented on the legislation and pointed to a study from the Institute for Justice that found Connecticut’s occupational licensing laws cost the state 48,000 jobs and more than $400 million in economic losses.


The Kansas Legislature is considering universal recognition legislation. The bill would allow anyone with an occupational license in another state to immediately work in Kansas. The Kansas Policy Institute recommended this reform in their post-COVID-19 recovery plan.


According to the Institute for Justice, Louisiana requires a license for the most low-income professions of any state in the country, and the state doesn’t universally reciprocate licenses earned in other states. This has a high impact on a mobile workforce, particularly on many of the families of medical professionals, who relocated to Louisiana during the coronavirus. To ease this burden, the Pelican Institute for Public Policy is working on an occupational licensure reciprocity bill for the spouses and family members of medical professionals. The legislation will establish a simple and efficient process to allow spouses and dependents of medical professionals to practice their professions in Louisiana.


In February 2021, the Mississippi House of Representatives passed universal recognition of occupational licenses. Empower Mississippi celebrated this bill and noted it will make it easier for people to move to Mississippi. In addition to universal recognition, the Mississippi House passed legislation that would remove licensing requirements for art therapists, auctioneers, interior designers, and wigologists.


In the 2021 Nebraska Legislature, the Platte Institute is taking action to permanently adopt and expand reforms that benefited Nebraskans in the emergency, including universal recognition of job licensing, which was temporarily extended to healthcare workers in 2020.

The Nebraska Legislature is currently advancing legislation that would grant universal recognition to licensed workers from out of state. In addition to supporting reforms in Nebraska, Platte is helping other state-based organizations drive reform in their states.

North Carolina

The North Carolina Legislature introduced a universal recognition bill last year, but lawmakers never passed the legislation. The John Locke Foundation has been encouraging state lawmakers to adopt universal licensing recognition as part of reforming North Carolina’s burdensome occupational licensing laws. With more than 220,000 jobs lost in North Carolina after a year of coronavirus shutdowns, the Foundation noted this reform is needed now more than ever.


A top priority for The Buckeye Institute—adoption of universal occupational licensing recognition—will attract licensed, professional workers to Ohio and help more Ohioans get back to work serving the state’s communities. The Ohio Legislature is considering two bills that would make it easier for licensed medical professionals to make a living in Ohio. On February 10, 2021, Buckeye testified before the Ohio Senate Health Committee in support of these bills and noted that while the two pieces of legislation are a step in the right direction, they need to be a “part of broader occupational licensing reform.”


The Oklahoma House of Representatives advanced legislation that would grant universal licensing recognition to people who move to Oklahoma. The bill would allow an individual who moves to Oklahoma from another state to have his or her professional license recognized as valid in Oklahoma without having to separately go through Oklahoma’s licensure process. The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs has been working to reduce and limit excessive licensing and ensure Oklahomans can get to work and earn a living for themselves and their families.

South Carolina

The South Carolina Legislature is considering a bill that makes it easier for those with a criminal record to obtain an occupational license. The Palmetto Promise Institute has been encouraging state lawmakers to adopt reforms like these that help South Carolina residents get back to work. With many people unemployed due to the coronavirus, Palmetto noted it’s more important than ever the state eliminates barriers to employment.

South Dakota

On February 17, 2021, South Dakota passed universal licensing recognition. The South Dakota Governor recommended the bill and it’s now awaiting her signature.


In early January, the Utah Governor signed his first executive order—a measure regarding occupational licenses. The order states that by June 30, 2021, state agencies must review all occupational licenses to ensure they are truly necessary and are not outdated or incomplete.

The Libertas Institute noted it hopes this executive order signals a new day moving forward for elected officials throughout the state to reduce marketplace barriers, encourage competition, and protect the right to work by restraining government burdens wherever they exist. For years, Libertas has been working to reduce occupational licensing requirements for Utah workers. In the “Rethink Why” video series, Libertas shares the stories of real workers who have been hurt by occupational licensing laws and makes the case for why Utah should deregulate occupational licensure.


In January 2021, the Virginia Senate passed legislation that would allow Virginia to recognize out-of-state occupational therapist licenses. The Virginia Institute for Public Policy is working to encourage the state to advance more occupational licensing reforms like these, including universal recognition.

West Virginia

In February 2021, the West Virginia House advanced a bill that would recognize out-of-state licenses. The Platte Institute worked with Americans for Prosperity to advance this reform. To aid West Virginia lawmakers in their efforts, Platte provided an FAQ document that detailed the benefits of universal recognition. Additionally, the West Virginia House passed legislation that amends licensing requirements for elevator mechanics, heating, ventilating, and cooling systems (HVAC) technicians, electricians, and plumbers.


The Badger Institute is promoting licensing reform through research, reporting, and storytelling that open the eyes of lawmakers and the public to the damaging effects of onerous licensing practices. Building on the successes of temporarily expanded telemedicine and reciprocity for healthcare professionals, Badger is making the case for adopting these policy changes permanently and extending them to other licensed professionals. Badger noted burdensome licensing requirements hurt Wisconsin workers and make the state a less attractive place to live.

Badger is also promoting the benefits of a sunrise law, which provides a fuller picture of the scope and impact of a new license and less restrictive options that would achieve the same goal. In addition, Badger continues to lead the fight against dentists’ protectionist obstruction of dental therapists, who could provide critical services to hundreds of thousands of underserved Wisconsin families.

Additional Resources

Occupational Licensing Reform: Reducing Barriers to Work
Badger Institute

Policy Solutions for the Pandemic: Medical License Reciprocity Should Be Permanent
The Buckeye Institute

Forbidden to Succeed: How Licensure Laws Hold Ohioans Back
The Buckeye Institute

Breaking Down Barriers to Work with Universal Recognition: Frequently Asked Questions
Goldwater Institute

Restoring the Right to Earn a Living: A Commonsense Solution to Occupational Licensing Job Barriers
Goldwater Institute

License to Work
Institute for Justice

At What Cost: State and National Estimates of the Economic Costs of Occupational Licensing
Institute for Justice

The Post-COVID economy Will Need Extensive Occupational Licensing Reform
John Locke Foundation

Rethink Occupational Licensure
Libertas Institute

Frequently Asked Questions About Universal Recognition of Job Licensing
Platte Institute

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Categories: News
Policy Issues: Jobs
Organization: State Policy Network