Rather quietly, the state legislature unanimously passed a bill this year that will break down barriers to work for military families in Mississippi.
The Military Family Freedom Act, or Senate Bill 2117, will allow military members and their families to receive occupational licenses in Mississippi based on their education and training they received in another state, rather than having to jump through new government hoops again. SB 2117 was sponsored by Sen. Chuck Younger and included a number of other champions including Sen. Mike Seymour and Reps. Bubba Carpenter and Steve Hopkins.
Today, about one in five need a license to work, a strong contrast from the 1950s when just five percent of the population needed permission from the government to earn a living. The impact on military families is even more pronounced than the public as a whole. Data from over the past year – before governments shut down the economy because of the coronavirus pandemic – showed military spouses had unemployment rates that ranged from 20 to 25 percent.
Why do we see this? One of the reasons is the obvious. The average military family moves every two to three years, meaning new town, new schools, new lives, and, if the spouse is working, a new job for him or her.
But obtaining an occupational license from another state, which includes new classes and testing, doesn’t make finding a new job easy, and it certainly doesn’t make it quick. By the time the paperwork and testing are completed, and you receive a license and then find a new job, you will likely be moving before too long. This process then repeats itself with every move. Eventually it gets to the point that it isn’t worth it. And we see absurdly high unemployment rates for military spouses.
With the new law, applicants are eligible to receive a license if they have held a license in good standing for at least one year and they completed testing or training requirements in the initiating state. Boards no longer have to attempt to compare education or training across the 50 states, and an applicant is able to continue with the work they were already trained for and successfully doing prior to the move to Mississippi.
If an individual comes from a state that does not require a license, they would have a clear pathway to licensure in Mississippi if they have worked for at least three years in that field.
Moreover, boards are required to issue a temporary license if an application may take longer than two weeks to process. Considering that some boards may meet just monthly, or even quarterly, this will help an individual start working sooner.
Military families do not forget how to practice their trade upon relocating to another state. This bill recognizes that, but it is true of everyone who moves to Mississippi with an occupational license from another state.
Last year, Arizona became the first state in the nation to pass universal recognition, meaning Arizona will recognize your occupational license even if that state doesn’t recognize a license from Arizona. Since that time, over 1,000 individuals who would probably still be working on obtaining a license if this law didn’t pass have applied for and been granted a license to work in a variety of fields in Arizona. Six states – Montana, Pennsylvania, Utah, Idaho, Iowa, and Missouri – have since followed.
At a time when so many are out of work, and we don’t yet have a firm grasp of what the economy will look like in the near future, freeing everyone to work should be a priority. That is especially true of a state like Mississippi that has been on the wrong side of domestic migration for several years.
Because if we wait until we’re the last state to make this change, we will see little of the positive benefit we would see from being a leading state.
This column appeared in the Starkville Daily News on July 1, 2020.