Kansas set to significantly expand, speed up out-of-state occupational licensing recognition

Titus Wu
Topeka Capital-Journal
Barbering is one of the many professions in Kansas that needs licensing. Under a bill, out-of-state barbers would have a much easier time getting a Kansas license.

When Mitchell Foley was in the U.S. Army and moving around from state to state, his spouse, a dental hygienist, had tried to continue her job. Every state Foley was stationed at made her go through additional courses, classes and requirements to be licensed to do so.

But it never happened.

"She was actually never able to work as a dental hygienist until we had moved back to Kentucky," said Foley. "I was only ever stationed at a location anywhere from two to three years. By the time you would meet the requirements to get the license, we had already moved to another installation to start all over again."

Now, in his current job at Fort Riley helping military families transition and exit service, Foley is seeing the same issue play out again. Instead of jumping through hurdles and waiting to get licensed in Kansas, hundreds are opting to go elsewhere where they're already licensed to get those higher-paid, professional jobs.

"Do we want to keep these professional spouses and their families in Kansas, or are we just going to go ahead and lose them because they're unable to get their license requirements that they need?" he asked. 

The obvious answer: Keep them.

Kansas is on the verge of putting into law major changes speeding up and expanding the process of granting occupational licenses to those already holding licenses from out of state ― not just for military folks, but also everybody else.

Both the Kansas House and Senate have given the thumbs up to House Bill 2066, and Gov. Laura Kelly is expected to sign the bill when it reaches her desk due to public support from her Department of Commerce. 

Spearheaded by Rep. Chris Croft, R-Overland Park, the bill first off expedites the process, requiring licensing bodies to issue a credential after a submitted application within 15 days for military families and 45 days for all others. Currently, it can take up to 60 days.

More importantly, for those not already qualified under current rules of a licensing body, anybody would have the ability to get a Kansas occupational license, as long as the applicant:

  • has a valid out-of-state license with a "similar scope of practice"
  • has worked at least one year in the occupation
  • has not been disciplined or has not committed an act that would result in the license being suspended or revoked
  • has no disqualifying criminal record
  • has financial standing.

A probationary license would be issued for a period of no longer than six months, and from then it would become permanent.

Such exemptions from a licensing body's qualifications are currently reserved only for military members and spouses. Croft, a veteran himself, expanded that to everybody else in this bill, hoping it could become an economic-development tool.

"Recognize at a time, there were over 30,000 jobs that required licenses in our state that were open," he said. "If you looked around, the (Kelly) administration, everybody was trying to find how to bring more jobs here."

It's why the Kansas Department of Commerce has backed Croft's proposal, giving it bipartisan support.

"When you begin to look at a lot of the out-migration we're dealing with, we have a tremendous shortage in our workforce," said the department's David Soffer. "To simply ask folks [licensed in another state] to then reset and completely start from anew here in Kansas doesn't make any sense."

Advocates said such barriers not only burden military families especially, but low-income people, as well, with a bunch of additional courses, applications or fees that may have to be paid for just to have another of the same type of license.

State Rep. Chris Croft is spearheading a Kansas bill that would significantly expand the recognition of out-of-state occupational licenses.

A few people were concerned about situations where other states' standards may not hold up to Kansas' standards, and that having a "similar scope of practice" was not enough to ensure the best therapists, doctors or whoever else coming into Kansas were indeed qualified. 

"Similar scope of practice" looks more at the work experience or actions one has performed. It's a downgrade from the current, more stringent "substantially equivalent" requirement, which takes into account work experience, coursework, test scores, practicum hours and more.

To appease those concerns, Croft let the state bodies licensing medical professions and engineers to still go by the "substantially equivalent" threshold for the two areas under his bill. 

"If it's a safety problem, do you view somebody not having an accredited license a safety issue? And the answer was, yes. OK, there's the pressure relief valve," he said. 

But a few other professions, notably architects, opposed the bill and were clamoring for the ability to still license applicants by the "equivalent" standard, too. They feared anything less could hurt the consumer. 

"Altering the board's capabilities and responsibilities will be detrimental to the board's ability to protect the public," said Aron Dunn, a member of the Kansas Society of CPAs, which represents accountants. "The education, experience components are extremely important."

Others took the issue on as a matter of unfairness.

"This bill diminishes my hard work and effort," said Maria Kutina, a Topeka architect.  "This bill dangerously allows for licensure based on a lower standard than what a Kansas native, Kansas educated and a Kansas architect is held to."

Croft pushed back and argued a more work experience-focused threshold not only makes the most sense but is sufficient enough for qualification. There are also other backup mechanisms in the bill, too.

"Those are temporary licenses," he said, referring to the initial probationary term. "And we wrote in there where they could give them additional training … and then it becomes a full license after they've accomplished the training."

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey was a big supporter and signed into law HB2569, which made Arizona the first state to recognize out-of-state occupational licenses.

Past evidence seems to back Croft up. In 2019, Arizona became the first state in the nation to recognize out-of-state occupational licenses.

"There have not been any public safety issues, and certainly not the type or the scale that opponents had feared. This isn’t surprising to me, though," said senior research fellow Stephen Slivinski, of Arizona State University's Center for the Study of Economic Liberty. "We’re seeing what we’ve seen for a long time: the presence of an occupational license isn’t a significant indicator of quality or public safety variance between states."  

A report from the National Conference of State Legislatures says just as much, that there's little proof licensure protects consumers from harm.

"In fact, evidence suggests that the most onerous licensure laws may lead to lower-quality services and increased public safety risks," the report said.

Regardless, Croft's legislation is ready to move on, a product of hard work over two years. 

The timing of its passage will be especially important as the U.S. Defense Department might consider another round of base closures and realignments, said Croft. Policies like this would not only help prevent base closures here in Kansas but even grow or add to what the state already has.

"We need to get military people back into work, their family members and everybody else's. We're trying to grow our economy," he said.