W.Va. House Passes Bill To Recognize Out-Of-State Occupational Licenses
The West Virginia House of Delegates advanced a bill to the Senate Thursday that would recognize a person's occupational license from another state instead of requiring them to match the state's own standards for certain regulated professions.
Republicans say the bill, creating a new "Universal Recognition of Occupational Licenses Act," will attract more residents, cutting away the red tape that prevents some skilled workers from moving to West Virginia.
Democrats, meanwhile, criticized the bill’s one-size-fits-all approach for a diverse gamut of state-regulated professions.
Some of the jobs House Bill 2007 applies to include engineers, massage therapists, veterinarians, accountants, dentists and architects — professions that by West Virginia licensing standards vary greatly, in terms of required schooling and experience.
After committee meetings, lawmakers agreed to exempt from the bill several positions in law enforcement, medicine and the legal sector.
In order to qualify for a West Virginia occupational license through House Bill 2007, applicants must intend to become a West Virginia resident. They have to be licensed in another state for at least one year, and they can’t be in poor standing with any state that they're licensed in.
“COVID-19 has created a unique situation where many people are leaving these heavily populated states and big cities to go to a less populated state,” said Del. Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, a sponsor of the bill. “This is about being proactive, and trying to attract people to this state.”
House Minority Leader Doug Skaff said Thursday that he takes issue with the bill using a person's “intent” to move to West Virginia as a requirement, instead of their physical presence in the state.
“As long as you say you intend to live in West Virginia, you can come take a job from other West Virginians under the pretense that you may work and live in West Virginia,” Skaff said of the bill.
Foster said that it will be up to state occupational boards to prove intent and hold applicants accountable to that commitment.
Del. Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, said Thursday that Republicans were providing little opportunity for people affected by the bill to comment on it.
In the House Government Organization Committee, where House Bill 2007 was considered, Hansen said chair Brandon Steele rejected his request for a public hearing on the bill.
“If there was ever a bill that the House was considering that should hold a public hearing, it's this bill, because of the wide variety of professions that are impacted,” Hansen said.
Foster, who is vice chair of the House Government Organization committee, said leaders decided against a public hearing to avoid the risk of COVID-19 spread. Steele did not return a request for comment Thursday afternoon.
Foster said committee staff sent emails to members of all the occupational licensing groups that would’ve been affected by an earlier version of this bill. The committee heard back from more than a dozen groups, according to Foster, who added that about six groups came to testify to the committee in person over the course of two meetings.
Lesley Rosier-Tabor, executive director of the West Virginia State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers, said she received an email two days before the committee was scheduled to consider House Bill 2007.
Republican committee leaders did not allow Rosier-Tabor to testify, according to her and Hansen. She said Thursday that she would’ve urged lawmakers against imposing a one-size-fits all approach for regulated professions like hers, which, according to West Virginia licensing standards, requires applicants to have an accredited degree, four to six years of experience and successful scores on two national exams.
“When you’re dealing with the safety of our citizens and the designing of our critical infrastructure, all of those things are the responsibility of professional engineers,” Rosier-Tabor said. “We don’t want to find ourselves having to lower the standard that we would hold our own professionals and our own engineering students to.”
The West Virginia Board of Registration for Professional Engineers has about 8,800 licensees, according to Rosier-Tabor, 82% of which are licensed to work here, but don’t reside in West Virginia.
In the last five years, she said the board has rejected less than a dozen applications.
The bill, which passed 65-33, was the 12th to pass the House of Delegates by Day 9 of the 60-day legislative session.
It now heads to the Senate for approval, in order to reach the governor’s desk and become law.
Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.