*C. Jarrett Dieterle cowrote this op-ed.
Heather Kokesch Del Castillo launched a dietary advice business in Monterey, Calif., in 2014. The business grew and Ms. Del Castillo eventually established a nationwide client base as a “health coach.” But when her husband, who is in the Air Force, was transferred to a base in Florida, her business hit a roadblock. A Florida Department of Health investigator showed up at the door of their new home with a cease-and-desist letter and a $750 fine.
After nearly two years of operating her business in Florida, Ms. Del Castillo learned that she had run afoul of a law requiring any person offering dietary advice to possess a state-issued license. Qualifying for that permit requires a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, a 900-hour internship, a passing grade on an exam administered by the state Commission on Dietetic Registration, and a $355 fee. A licensed dietitian had tipped off the Health Department that Ms. Del Castillo was giving unauthorized advice. She retained the Institute for Justice, a public-interest law firm, to fight the law that stripped her of her livelihood.
State licensing laws pose a particular burden on military spouses like Ms. Del Castillo. About 1 in 4 Americans need licenses to perform their occupations. In some states, florists, taxidermists and even fortune-tellers need licenses to operate. Far too often, these licenses serve less as safeguards of public health and safety than as barriers to entry. In many cases, the state-appointed boards that issue licenses are stocked with industry insiders seeking to restrict competition.
Aggressive licensing regimes limit the ability of Americans to move from state to state. Because different states’ requirements can vary greatly for the same profession, and many states require new residents to undergo new training in order to continue working, people can find themselves unemployed by simply migrating across state lines.
Ms. Del Castillo says she knows numerous women in similar situations, including several practicing massage therapists, who have struggled to obtain recertification in their trades after their husbands’ military careers required an interstate move. One acquaintance stopped pursuing paid massage work completely because of Florida’s onerous recertification requirements. Recertification and licensing requirements also can affect teachers, hairdressers and lawyers who move from state to state.
Military spouses were 10 times as likely to have moved to a new state in the past year than the average American, according to a combined 2012 study by the Treasury and Defense departments. Surveys suggest that anywhere from 35% to 50% of military spouses work in professions that require licensure, and nearly 75 percent of them would need to be relicensed upon transferring to a new state. Perhaps as a result, the unemployment rate for military spouses is 16 percent, while the national unemployment rate is only 4.1 percent.
The Pentagon has a State Liaison Office, which has worked with states to increase licensing portability for military spouses, and several states have enacted reforms. Florida recently passed legislation enabling military spouses to transfer out-of-state licenses at no cost. But that won’t help Ms. Del Castillo. California didn’t require her to be licensed in the first place.
The federal government can also play a role in reform efforts. The Alternatives to Licensing that Lower Obstacles to Work Act, introduced by Sens. Mike Lee and Ben Sasse, would save military spouses from having to obtain a new professional license if they move across state lines but still work on a federally owned military installation.
All Americans ought to have access to license portability. States should perform extensive reviews of their licensing laws and eliminate requirements that lack a clear connection to public safety. Lawmakers should also forgo implementing new licensing requirements for any profession that doesn’t involve a quantifiable risk to public health and safety, or for which less burdensome options such as inspections or bonding can be just as effective.
And more states should forge interstate compacts that create uniform licensing requirements. One promising model is the temporary licensure compact recently proposed in these pages by Labor Secretary Alex Acosta and South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard. It would allow workers who have been licensed in any profession or occupation in other participating states to receive, upon request within 30 days, an in-state temporary license.
Lawmakers at every level of government need to ensure that all Americans—and especially the family members of those in uniform—have the freedom and flexibility to earn a living in their chosen professions.
*Image credit: Tashatuvango