Universal Recognition, A License to Work

By Benita Dodd

The phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” is a favorite of those with environmental concerns about the amount of trash generated by people and businesses. It’s also a perfect phrase to apply to occupational licensing as a transient population moves in and out of Georgia, if policymakers want the state to continue as the “number one place to do business.”

Consider: There are 42 licensing boards in Georgia, supported by staff in the Secretary of State’s Professional Licensing Boards Division, for the numerous vocations and professions requiring an occupational license before someone can work in their chosen field. Still other professions require licenses, just not through the Professional Licensing Boards Division: dentists, nurse aides, pharmacists, physicians, lawyers, insurance agents, pesticide applicators and real estate agents.

It’s past time to question how many occupations need a state-issued license. With  fewer than 30 occupations licensed across all 50 states, Georgia needs to look at how to facilitate job opportunity by reducing hurdles for those who want to earn a living.

How many face these hurdles? In fiscal year 2021, the Secretary of State’s Office reports, the licensing boards under its purview alone received 67,128 licensing applications and approved 50,609 of them, with applications taking an “average” of 19 days to process. More than 200,000 licenses were renewed, with 98% of them renewed online. The state collected more than $20 million in fees and more than $1 million in fines.

Now consider the possibility of “reuse.” How many state boards is enough? Diverting more occupations and candidates to professional organizations for certification and licensing, while consolidating others under fewer state boards, could streamline the process and remove unwarranted control from the state.

As for recycling licenses: The cosmetologist’s job is no different in Alaska, Alabama or Atlanta. There is a good reason to embrace an approach that is sweeping the nation: universal recognition This allows someone licensed and in good standing in another state to quickly obtain an equivalent license when they move into a new state. Ten states have enacted broad universal recognition of licenses; another four have implemented some recognition and at least 20 states introduced a version of universal recognition in 2021. Georgia has tried several times without success.

The universal recognition approach made its appearance in Arizona, championed by the Goldwater Institute, and went into effect in 2019.

“Workers don’t lose their skills simply because they move to Arizona,”  Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said when he urged passage of the legislation.

“Rather than require skilled professionals to interrupt their careers to invest more time and more money simply to continue work they’ve been doing elsewhere, states can signal they choose to welcome workers with a red carpet, not red tape,” the Goldwater Institute notes.

Since the law took effect in August 2019, nearly 4,000 such licenses have been approved in Arizona. The law did not “delicense” any profession or dilute requirements, but it reduced the bureaucracy and red tape associated with obtaining a license to work. Pennsylvania, with 29 boards and commissions that license 255 occupations, soon followed suit and, as noted previously, the number of states adopting versions of Arizona’s law is growing.

With Georgia consistently one of the top states for in-migration, expediting recognition of new residents’ work experience, qualifications and occupational licenses is not only common sense but also the fiscally responsible thing to do. Empowering boards “across the board” to accept out-of-state licenses with similar scopes of practice and in good standing can reduce the cost and role of government and get new Georgians to work as productive citizens sooner rather than later.


Benita Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. Established in 1991, the Foundation is a trusted, independent resource for voters and elected officials. The Foundation provides actionable solutions to real-life problems by bringing people together. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.

© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (September 10, 2021). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and her affiliations are cited.