Rep. Robert Anderst felt frustrated when a constituent called him with a complaint about licenses. The man wanted to be a real estate agent, and because he “got busted for drugs 20 years ago,” he couldn’t get an Idaho license, the Idaho Press reported.
The number of U.S. occupations that require a license has ballooned from about one in 20 half a century ago to about one in four today, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Roughly one in three adults in the U.S. has some sort of criminal record.
The intersection of those two factors is among the issues Idaho is facing as it seeks to reform its occupational licensing laws, an effort Gov. Brad Little kicked off with an executive order while he was still lieutenant governor in 2017, and on which both Little and lawmakers are pressing ahead.
For years, many occupational licensing laws and rules simply banned anyone from licensing if they’d committed a felony or a crime, or if they weren’t of “good character” or had committed an act of “moral turpitude,” which wasn’t defined.
“Like many parts of the country, we are experiencing low unemployment, which is great,” said Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, “but it makes it harder to find people to hire. It seems like we have more jobs than we have qualified applicants, and I think this is a way to help with that.”
Lakey co-chairs the Legislature’s interim committee on occupational licensing reform with Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle; the panel, on which Anderst, R-Nampa, also serves, is in its second year of work.
When the panel met last week, it learned that 29 separate occupations in Idaho still include “moral turpitude” restrictions in their licensing laws, from chiropractors, dentists and morticians to geologists, athlete agents and log scalers.
“Decades and decades ago. felonies were relatively rare and very, very serious,” said Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise. “But now we’ve had this felonization of America. . The need for some kind of reform here I think is quite evident.”
THE RELEVANCY QUESTION
Idaho is one of two dozen states that’s joined a consortium of led by NCSL to examine reforms to occupational licensing laws, after a 2015 White House report drew national attention to the issue. This year, lawmakers unanimously passed legislation to ease licensing laws for military members and spouses, who face special hurdles due to their frequent moves from state to state.
Lakey said he expects the interim committee, which proposed the 2019 bill, to bring forward new legislation to lawmakers in January on changing all remaining outright bans on criminal backgrounds in state occupational licensing laws to “relevancy” tests instead — allowing licensing boards to consider such factors as how long it’s been since the applicant’s criminal conviction, evidence of rehabilitation since then, and relevancy of the crime to the profession the person wants to enter.
“Obviously, you don’t want to hire somebody that’s convicted of embezzlement to work at a bank,” Lakey said, “or somebody that’s convicted of child abuse to work as a teacher.”
Suzanne Hultin, program director for the Employment, Labor and Retirement program at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said that’s the “relevancy” determination.
Idaho’s real estate licensing laws, although they do require fingerprinting, already have changed to include the relevancy provisions. Sections added in 2003 say that an applicant can’t have been convicted of a felony, but, if they are, at least five years after completing their sentence, they could apply to the Idaho Real Estate Commission for an exemption.
The commission would consider the severity or nature of the felony; the time passed since it occurred; the number or pattern of crimes; the circumstances of the crime that relate to the possibility of reoffense; the “relationship of the crime to the licensed practice of real estate”; and the applicant’s activities since the crime, including employment, education, restitution and other factors.
Alex Adams, the governor’s budget director and administrative rules chief, recalled a situation that came up when he headed the state Board of Pharmacy.
“If somebody has a prior opioid conviction, that is pretty clearly something that should be looked at by the board, I think,” he said. But in one case, an applicant for licensing as a pharmacy technician “had a felony in their background for having stolen helium tanks from a military base in the ’70s. . The board determined that that was not a relevant consideration for whether or not this individual, who after 40 years of learned wisdom and experience, should now be granted a technician license.”
‘TIME TO GET RID OF THAT’
Lawmakers and the governor are on the same page on occupational licensing reform. Little’s executive orders have launched an extensive review of all of Idaho’s occupational licensing laws and rules, and at the end of September, his administration will issue a report recommending specific changes.
Among the changes: At least one type of Idaho occupational license will proposed for elimination. It’s for “cemeterians,” a type of occupation for which a licensing board was established by law in the 1990s, but the board was never appointed, and no licenses have ever been issued.
“It’s pretty easy to say it’s time to get rid of that,” Adams said.
The lawmakers heard a presentation from Hultin about “universal licensing” laws recently passed in Arizona and Pennsylvania, which essentially allow anyone with an occupational license from another state to get one there. Other major licensing reform laws states are considering include “sunrise” and “sunset” provisions, Hultin said, which either establish a cost-benefit test to be conducted before a new license can be enacted, or require review of all existing licenses to examine the costs and benefits.
Little’s executive order already implemented both of those in Idaho. After determining that Idaho has at least 442 different types of occupational licenses, at least 204,000 licensees, and 13 agencies along with 47 boards and commissions in charge of them, the governor ordered that all licensing provisions be reviewed at least every four years.
Agencies already have made more than 200 recommendations for streamlining their rules. Under Little’s executive orders, an annual report will reexamine the licensing laws of at least five professions a year. That’s the report that’ll come out at the end of September.
In addition to that “sunset” review, Little also ordered “sunrise” restrictions, requiring that any proposed new professional or occupational licensing be reviewed to determine whether the new licensing is necessary to protect the public health and safety, whether it’ll harm job creation, and whether it’s cost-effective.
Lakey said he believes the Legislature in its next session should also pass “sunrise” review requirements in state law, in cooperation with the administration’s efforts.
“I think that’s a good place to start,” he said.