Twenty States Have Some Form of Universal License Recognition. Why Not Tennessee?


April 1, 2024 2:43PM

Tennessee is the best in the nation when it comes to a lot of things, but one area where we need improvement is the regulatory burden for occupational licensing.

Occupational licensing, supposedly designed to protect public health and safety, has proliferated across various professions, ranging from healthcare to cosmetology. While well-intentioned, this system has grown cumbersome, hindering individuals’ ability to practice their professions across state borders with many rules having nothing to do with health and safety. Each state maintains its own set of licensing requirements, leading to redundant processes and barriers for professionals relocating or seeking employment opportunities in new jurisdictions.

Tennessee’s current licensing framework poses several challenges. The state’s intricate licensing procedures can be burdensome for professionals moving into Tennessee, discouraging skilled workers from bringing their expertise to the state. Moreover, the lack of universal license recognition limits workforce mobility, stifling economic growth and innovation. Additionally, the administrative overheads associated with licensing processes contribute to inefficiencies, both for professionals and regulatory boards.

In 2019, Arizona implemented a universal licensing plan, in which the state recognizes out-of-state occupational licenses for people who have been licensed in their profession for at least one year and are in good standing in their respective states. Arizona isn’t the only state that has enacted universal license recognition—20 states have some form of universal license recognition. These universal recognition laws vary from state to state, and some even impose additional requirements on top of already having a license and being in good standing in another state, which defeats the purpose of the universal licensing recognition statutes. 

The Commonsense Institute of Arizona did an economic impact study of the 2019 law and determined that the law would increase Arizona’s workforce by nearly 16,000 people in the ten years following the implementation of universal licensing recognition. In 2023, the Goldwater Institute released a report and found that in the few years that the law was in effect, more than 6,500 licenses were granted based on universal licensing recognition.

Opponents of license recognition often come from the professions themselves. In Tennessee, groups like land surveyors, contractors, and others are fairly hostile toward reducing the overall burden to enter the profession and making it easier for out-of-state license holders to come work in Tennessee without having to jump through additional hoops. 

Let’s use the barber’s license for example. To obtain this license in Tennessee, you have to have a 10th-grade education, or its equivalent, and the completion of 1,500 hours in a registered barber school. Texas, on the other hand, only requires 1,000. Assuming a barber from Texas wants to move to Tennessee for fairer weather, this person would be out of a job until obtaining the additional 500 hours. We talk constantly about the benefits of on-the-job training. Years of experience as a barber is worth a lot more than 500 hours in school.

If the intent of occupational licensing is for the protection of health and safety, when comparing Tennessee and Texas, is it really 33% more dangerous to the public in Tennessee, or do these requirements only serve as a bar to joining the workforce?

As Tennessee strives to strengthen its workforce and continue its tradition of being a leader among states, embracing universal license recognition is a must. Tennessee has served as an attractive destination for people for several years now, and as a state experiencing significant in-migration, it’s crucial to welcome new additions to our workforce without imposing unnecessary barriers through licensing requirements.