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Goldwater Honors America’s Military Families with the Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act

May 28, 2023

Each year, Memorial Day provides an opportunity to demonstrate the nation’s deep and enduring appreciation for the countless American patriots who have given their lives to ensure that others may live freely. This Memorial Day, the Goldwater Institute honors America’s servicemembers and military families, and thanks them for the significant personal sacrifices they make on behalf of American liberty. And Goldwater is celebrating passage of the Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act, a new federal law that makes it easier for members of the military and their families to get to work when they move to a new state.

While some of the sacrifices that servicemembers and military families make are widely known to civilians, many Americans may not be aware of the everyday challenges that accompany a life of service to one’s country. Military families, for example, are particularly vulnerable to the pernicious effects of overzealous occupational licensing laws. These laws frequently require skilled professionals to jump through hoops to complete more training or take more tests just to continue doing a job they’ve already been doing out of state. The average military family moves every two to three years, a reality that means many working spouses are required to re-license just as often. In many cases, the process to re-license in a new state is so costly and time-intensive that it disrupts careers permanently.

A new federal law seeks to ease this regulatory burden. Modeled after the Goldwater Institute’s Military Family Freedom Act and signed into law in 2023, the Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act has been several years in the making. Championed by Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Mike Garcia, the reform amends the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to ensure that licensed, qualified servicemembers and their spouses are able to apply for occupational licenses and be approved quickly when they cross state lines on military orders. By honoring the time and effort already invested in an out-of-state license, the Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act empowers military spouses to pursue their own version of the American Dream even as they support the important work of America’s servicemembers.

The new law requires state licensing entities to recognize the out-of-state occupational licenses of servicemembers or their spouses so long as they already hold an out-of-state license in good standing at a similar scope of practice. An essential change, this approach sets a specific standard by which state licensing agencies must evaluate applications from servicemembers or their spouses: so long as the scope of practice aligns, there is no room to require applicants to take on unnecessary extra costs or training. Further, if there is an existing compact in place for a given occupation, the federal law expressly defers to state law. This is a helpful approach for those states that have already enacted broad universal recognition. Under this dynamic, even if there is a compact in place, a servicemember or spouse may choose to use whichever pathway is the best fit. This is especially important for military spouses who are relocating from states that may not be a party to a compact for a specific industry. This deferral to state law means that servicemembers and military spouses won’t be penalized for any differences in state licensing laws.

The Goldwater Institute has been diligently working to change the regulatory environment around occupational licensure for professionals of all kinds. A Goldwater report from 2019 illustrated the challenges facing military families, noting that “all 50 states have laws or policies meant to ease the transition for military spouses in licensed professions. But those laws are so riddled with vague language, conditions, and exceptions as to render many virtually worthless. For the most part, a license from one state is not good in another. Some occupations can be practiced freely in one state yet carry extensive licensing requirements in others.” Fortunately, the Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act resolves many of these issues and brings much-needed clarity and common sense to the licensing process.

The Goldwater Institute thanks Rep. Mike Garcia and Sen. Mike Lee for their dedication to this reform, and every state-level champion across the country who has worked on similar measures. We are especially grateful to the millions of hardworking military families who sacrifice every day to ensure that others may live freely in this great nation.

Heather Curry is the Director of Strategic Engagement at the Goldwater Institute



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