By Cooper Smith

President Joe Biden signed the Veterans Auto and Education Improvement Act of 2022 (VAEIA) on Jan. 5, 2023, which includes provisions that support military service members, from educational assistance benefits to automobile allowances. Section 19 of the Act intends to help service members and their spouses easily obtain professional licenses when they relocate to another state due to military orders.

Though Section 19 is well-intentioned, it bypasses the principles of federalism while placing an incomplete, unfunded federal mandate on states — and it overlooks the many ways that states have crafted, and continue to craft, policies that address barriers that military service members and their families face during a change of station.

Section 19 Encroaches on State Sovereignty
The Tenth Amendment reserves the authority to regulate and license these local matters for the states. States — not the federal government — have the responsibility to issue occupational licensing standards as part of the power to protect public health and safety. Section 19 of the VAEIA interferes with states’ jurisdiction to regulate the health, safety and welfare of their residents, and it is counter to America’s federalist system.

Beyond state sovereignty concerns, state policymakers and regulators view the process described in Section 19 as unworkable. The section states that a license shall be considered valid at a similar scope of practice and in the discipline applied for.” Despite this, the text provides little further guidance, creating significant issues in professions where the scope of practices varies across states.

Terminology like “similar scope of practice” is ambiguous and could be confusing if the service member or spouse’s license has a different scope of practice. If the state a practitioner was previously licensed in did not allow them to perform certain procedures, but the new state does, questions could arise as to the licensee’s competence when that practitioner has never been licensed to perform the procedure.

The language confounds licensure with certification. There are professions where some states require a license, whereas other states allow voluntary certification. It appears that a service member or spouse could practice in the state they’re relocating to if they hold a certification and not a license. State boards could now be required to license practitioners with a voluntary certification or practitioners would be eligible to practice in a state that requires licensure and comes with a higher standard of requirements that ensure competence.

A State-led, Cooperative Approach
States lead the way to provide relief on the issue of professional licensure for military spouses. Forty-nine states provide either expedited licensure, temporary licensure or endorsement for military spouses, alleviating barriers to employment caused by state regulatory structures. Forty-four states have passed legislation that includes language stating that a licensing body ‘shall issue’ an employment credential to a military spouse licensed in another state. Additionally, states passed more than 200 separate pieces of legislation directly pertaining to military spouse licensure portability.

Similarly, interstate occupational licensure compacts have a documented history of success in easing the relocation of military spouses. States have enacted more than 270 separate pieces of occupational licensure legislation since 2016. States demonstrated that they are well-equipped and motivated to deliver for service members and their families.

Within this state-led approach, the federal government can play a cooperative role instead of a commanding one. The Council of State Governments facilitated the development of language used in many of these occupational licensure compacts in cooperation with state regulators, professional organizations, licensed professionals and federal partners like the Departments of Defense and Labor to provide robust benefits for military spouses. These departments have partnered with the states to create a solution that protects state sovereignty while achieving employment and professional goals.

In the absence of federal mandates, states can work alongside federal agencies to make progress. Section 19 circumvents states’ cooperative approach. While the section exempts interstate occupational licensure compacts, the mandate has the potential to complicate the development and consideration of new compacts by burdening state resources and implying that existing state solutions are not optimal. If the states were ignoring this issue, Section 19 could have been appropriate. However, when states are passing legislation and banding together to deliver for service members and their families, there is no need for the federal government to vault over existing progress.

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