State Policy Network
Communications case study: The Buckeye Institute makes Ohio a national trailblazer on occupational licensing reform

Brianna McKinnon is passionate about teaching special needs children in Washington, a job she has had for years. When the military transferred her husband to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, she assumed she could continue the job she loves in her new home. But after arriving in Ohio, the state told her it wouldn’t recognize her teaching license from Washington.

Brianna’s story is a common one. An occupational license is a permission slip from the government to work, and to get these licenses, states require people to complete a certain amount of training, take an exam, and pay a fee to practice their profession. The costs, both in time and money, are steep hurdles for Americans, especially low-income individuals who often work in fields that require these licenses. Ohio requires 18 percent of residents to obtain a license to work. Ohio’s laws only compounded this burden for new people moving in: Since the state doesn’t recognize licenses from other states, these professionals must go through the process and costs all over again.

To help Ohio residents earn a living without having to overcome such unnecessary barriers, The Buckeye Institute launched a campaign to reform Ohio’s occupational licensing laws and, along the way, became more broadly known as a leading champion for this state-based solution.

Brianna McKinnon and her husband.
Photo Credit: The Buckeye Institute

SPN: Tell us about the project.

The Buckeye Institute: For years Ohio’s restrictive occupational licensing regime benefited the well-connected while disadvantaging those seeking to work and advance in their careers. The claims against reforms were always the same: any reform would put public health and safety at risk and would harm Ohioans. The Buckeye Institute recognized the injustice and decided to proactively, comprehensively, and unrelentingly combat this unfair regime, not to boost our own brand but to reform an unjust system that put the desires of a nearly unstoppable special interest lobby above the needs of Ohioans.

The Buckeye Institute relied on its own credible, independent research to form the backbone of its policy recommendations, and these recommendations became the basis for Ohio Senate Bill 255. The Buckeye Institute’s comprehensive and tireless efforts resulted in Ohio passing the nation’s best occupational license review process, which was signed into law on January 4, 2019. Once adopted, this legislation moved Ohio from being one of the worst states on occupational licensing to one of the country’s best models for  reviewing licensing burdens.

Buckeye then turned its attention to advancing occupational licensing reforms for military spouses. On January 27, 2020, the Ohio Governor signed legislation granting the spouses of active-duty military men and women who are relocated to Ohio reciprocity for their valid out-of-state occupational licenses, allowing them to continue working in their chosen profession. This commonsense reform was based upon The Buckeye Institute’s report, “Increasing Job Opportunities for Military Families.” Ohio is also considering expansion of universal occupational license reciprocity.

SPN: How did this project help build your brand?

The Buckeye Institute: As a result of our recognized expertise and commitment to occupational license reform, The Buckeye Institute has become a go-to organization on this critical issue. Groups on both sides of the issue and across the political spectrum now recognize the value of Buckeye’s support for further reforms and realize Buckeye can prevent licensing expansion efforts that would create barriers to jobs and opportunity. Interest groups also recognize the respect The Buckeye Institute has within the General Assembly on this issue and know that Buckeye’s input will be sought on any licensing legislation.

The Buckeye Institute’s leadership has also made Ohio a national trailblazer and has helped thousands of Ohioans start new professions or become eligible for promotions.

SPN: What should other state think tanks keep in mind when pursuing their own reforms?

The Buckeye Institute: Although our work focused on educating members of the General Assembly, the most important part was telling the stories of regular Ohioans who were affected by undue regulations. We shared a story on Jennifer McClellan, a licensed massage therapist in Minnesota who was unable to work in Ohio. We also shared stories of military spouses like Brianna McKinnon, a special education teacher, and Melonia Lillie, a registered nurse who has served this country alongside her active duty Marine Corps husband as a military spouse since 2008. Sharing their stories made it easier for policymakers to understand the burdens these people endure just to earn a living.

For their work to become a recognized local and national leader in occupational licensing reform, The Buckeye Institute was a finalist for the 2020 SPN Communications Excellence Awards in the Bold Brand Boost Award category.

Categories: Best Practices
States: Ohio
Organization: State Policy Network