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State making progress in occupational licensing review

By Steve Metzer

The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY – Licensing rules that affect Oklahomans including funeral directors, embalmers, pesticide applicators, water well drillers, facialists and family practice physicians will be reviewed in the coming year by the state’s Occupational Licensing Advisory Commission.

The 12-member commission was formed last year to review occupational licenses and offer recommendations to reduce barriers people might face getting into the workforce while at the same time protecting public safety. Labor Commissioner Leslie Osborn said it accomplished a lot in a short time its first year, reviewing policies affecting 28 licensed occupations administered by 15 different state entities.

Recommendations led to a number of bills considered by the Legislature, including one passed into law that makes it easier for military members and their spouses to go to work in their chosen occupations in the Sooner State.

Another bill passed into law opened some doors for people to pursue licensed occupations even if they may have been convicted of some crime in the past. Osborn said work done by the commission also led to creation of a comprehensive database of information about Oklahoma’s 220 occupations that require licenses, laws that explain why licenses are necessary, experience and educational requirements of applicants, related fees and web links to various state entities that administer licensing. It’s easy to find the Occupational Licensing Directory on the website of the Oklahoma Department of Labor, she said.

Members of the commission met recently to review what was accomplished and to plan ahead for the coming year. Dozens of occupational licenses are to be reviewed, administered by no fewer than 11 state boards and entities such as the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

Licensing rules for pesticide applicators, for example, administered by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, are due to be examined. So will policies and procedures that affect people who aspire to be licensed practical nurses and registered nurses, veterinarians, non-veterinarian equine dental technicians, certified animal euthanasia technicians, welders, barber instructors, manicurists, home inspectors, licensed dietitians, occupational therapists, physical therapists, therapeutic recreational specialists and licensed professional music therapists, among other professionals. The licensing entity that will see the most reviews will be the Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision, with rules related to 19 occupational licenses to be examined.

Osborn said the commission is supposed to review 25% of occupational licenses annually and to begin the process anew every four years. Among other things in the coming year, the commission will review fees collected by agencies and boards and how they affect their operations. Commission members also will ask questions about how new laws addressing things like military reciprocity are being implemented, and how agencies and boards are managing provisions of a law passed last session requiring a one-time, one-year, licensing fee waiver for low-income individuals. The labor commissioner said reviews are meant ultimately to strike a balance between cutting red tape and easing restrictions faced by people who want to work while also protecting public safety. Reviewers look not only at licensing fees but also at educational and testing requirements of applicants.

“My hope is that we’re shining a light on each of these licensing entities and making sure that we’ve reached that nice spot in the middle of protecting public welfare but also not being overly prohibitive of people getting into that job market, because we have a real workforce shortage in Oklahoma,” Osborn said. “It’s basically a national movement to look at things like whether the amount of licenses you have in your state is about right and are you finding that middle ground.”

A 2017 study by the Institute for Justice ranked Oklahoma as the 18th “most burdensome” state when it comes to occupational licensing laws. Of 102 lower-income occupations examined, Oklahoma licensed 41, requiring an average $234 in fees, 399 days of education and experience and two exams. Osborn noted that an Occupational Licensing Task Force was convened that year to look into how licensing might be reformed to make life easier for Oklahomans and positively impact the state’s economy.

Osborn said some private organizations, like Remerge, which helps former inmates get back on their feet after leaving prison, have been recruited to offer input on how to make the job market easier for people to access. That input combined with findings of the commission could potentially lead to job training initiatives or even new programs developed by the state Department of Education, career techs or other organizations.

Osborn said another hope is that more people will pursue jobs in businesses and industries desperate to fill jobs. Of particular interest to the commission this year will be occupational licensing rules and requirements affecting nursing professionals, as Oklahoma faces a growing need for nurses and other health care professionals.

“We want to look at our workforce needs and make sure we’re doing it right,” she said. “We want to make sure there aren’t onerous regulations, and if there are certain occupations on the shortage list, let’s put a magnifying lens on those and make sure the licensing process isn’t partially responsible for those shortages.”

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