Georgia lawmakers looking to reduce barriers to work

The Georgia General Assembly is considering two bills this legislative session that address barriers to work.

House Bill 155 would require licensing boards to recognize most occupational licenses obtained in other states when an individual moves to Georgia, and Senate Bill 157 would clarify the standards for licensure eligibility for people with criminal records. 

In January, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation noted that Georgia has plenty of room for improvement in expanding work opportunities. An Institute for Justice report found that, while Georgia requires relatively few occupational licenses compared to other states, the barriers to obtaining those licenses are relatively high.

These bills look to move Georgia toward more occupational freedom, albeit in distinct ways.

HB 155, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, is a move toward universal recognition of licensure. While some qualifications for certain licenses are different across state lines, universal recognition acknowledges that workers themselves do not lose their qualifications when they move. Working in a new state is plenty challenging as it is, but eliminating the financial costs and time spent on acquiring a new license could make that process much easier, as well as allow for quicker and simpler entries into Georgia’s state and local economies.

Eligibility for recognition includes anyone who holds an occupational license in another state “for which the training, experience and testing are substantially similar in qualifications and scope” to Georgia’s. Individuals must also be in good standing and not under investigation. They may also be subject to exams related to the profession in question. The bill does not recognize out-of-state licenses for firefighters, healthcare providers and law enforcement officers.

To date, 20 states have adopted universal recognition, but Mississippi is the only Southern state to do so. HB 155 passed the House without a dissenting vote, and the Senate Regulated Industries Committee approved it unanimously on Tuesday.

Update: On Monday, March 13, the Georgia Senate adopted HB 155 in a 54-0 vote.

Senate Bill 157, sponsored by Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, would notably remove the vague “moral turpitude” licensing criteria that can be used to restrict Georgians with criminal records from obtaining an occupational license.

Crimes involving moral turpitude generally involve behavior that is deemed indicative of poor character or found to be otherwise anti-social, but the definition is subject to a degree of interpretation. This bill strikes language about moral character and clarifies that denials should be reserved for cases that involve a direct relationship between a criminal record and the licensed occupation.

Expanding access to employment to Georgians with a criminal record could also help to address related problems like recidivism, as employment is a significant deterrent of repeat offenses.

SB 157 also passed without a dissenting vote and has moved to the House.

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