RALEIGH — The number of licensed professions has grown in the U.S. has grown exponentially since the 1950s.
Today, about one in four jobs requires some sort of license. In North Carolina, more than 180 jobs — from EMTs to hair stylists to interior decorators — require licensure.
This can be a challenge for people, licensed in other states, to make a seamless professional move to North Carolina.
Consider Craig Smith, a licensed funeral director from Vermont.
On June 6, 2008, that state issued Smith a funeral director license. A few months later Smith applied to the N.C. Board of Funeral Services for a reciprocal license, but the board denied his application. Smith, it turned out, failed to disclose a prior criminal conviction, and he would have to wait a year before applying again. Smith tried again to apply for a reciprocal license in 2011. The board determined he was now of good moral standing, yet it again rejected his application.
This time the problem was Vermont’s standards for licensing a funeral director. One of the requirements to get a reciprocal funeral director license is that another state’s standards be “substantially similar” to North Carolina. The board determined Vermont’s standards didn’t quite get there.
Smith requested a hearing, but the board didn’t budge. He tried again in 2015 to apply for a reciprocal license, but once again the board denied his application.
Vermont had issued Smith a license without requiring proof of graduation from an accredited mortuary school, a passing score from the International Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards, or proof of successful completion of courses in sociology, pathology, funeral directing, and business law.
On Sept. 18, the N.C. Court of Appeals upheld a decision rejecting Smith’s request for a reciprocal license. Smith petitioned the court to overturn the board’s ruling on technical grounds, but the court ultimately sided with the NCBFS.
Smith is still trying to get his funeral director’s license. He’s taken some exams and courses necessary toward meeting the funeral board’s standards for licensure. But he has yet to complete the requirements.
“I’ve been passed over for a lot of jobs, about 10 to 20 jobs,” Smith told CJ. “People hold them for me until I get my licenses, but they can’t keep holding them while this is going on.”
Numerous studies have shown occupational licensing is a barrier to work, and one study even suggests the practice can deter people from moving to another state.
The Institute for Justice, a nonprofit law firm focused on litigating to enhance economic and educational freedom, released a report ranking states on their occupational licensing laws. North Carolina ranked as the 17th most broadly and onerously licensed state, and 41st when ranked by the most burdensome licensing laws, the second edition of the report says.
“Lawmakers can help more in-state and out-of-state workers find jobs by eliminating needless licensing requirements and, if needed, substituting less restrictive alternatives,” IJ reported. “A popular alternative solution — reciprocity — should be a last resort.”
IJ argues such reciprocity agreements can further cement unnecessary licensing requirements, as states raise the bar on their own requirements to meet reciprocity rules in other states.
IJ simply recommends that states “recognize” out-of-state licenses and certificates.
“Unlike reciprocity, recognition is a unilateral solution: A state simply chooses to allow workers with licenses or certifications from other states to practice, regardless of the requirements other states set,” IJ said. “As a result, recognition can enhance mobility without the drawbacks of cementing needless licensing in place or ratcheting up requirements.”
Arizona in April became the first state to officially recognize all out-of-state occupational licenses. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, signed a bill allowing people with an out-of-state license to start working in Arizona without taking more exams or going back to school.
“We’ve heard too many stories of licensed, experienced professionals denied the opportunity to work upon moving to Arizona,” Ducey told Reason. “With this first-in-the-nation reform, Arizonans who have recently moved here will be able to put their skills to work faster and without all the red tape.”
North Carolina has taken some smaller steps to ease the way for some out-of-state licensed workers. On April 4, the State Board of Education voted to allow out-of-state teachers to get licensed in North Carolina if they have already passed a licensing test in their home states. The state education board also looked into streamlining licensing reciprocity for school psychologists.
This can be a tricky balance, one state representative said.
Rep. Kelly Alexander, D-Mecklenburg, himself a licensed funeral director, said the state should look at how reciprocal licensing is handled.
“You don’t want someone to be allowed to practice in the state who isn’t up to snuff, but at the same token we are not talking about building a nuclear reactor,” Alexander told CJ. “There has to be a place somewhere between the nuclear scientist model and the trade school model that recognizes that folks have a level of proficiency and consistency.”
Sometimes determining whether licensing standards in another state are substantially similar to our’s can be subjective. It makes sense, he said, that out-of-state licensed workers at least be required to demonstrate they understand North Carolina’s laws relating to their occupations.
“There is a level of competency that all personnel across the U.S. ought to have to be able to do what they do. But, of course, states should have the right to add other things. But there should be a rational reason for those additions,” Alexander said.