Come June 15, the Georgia Legislature will lumber back into session after a COVID-19-induced respite that began when lawmakers adjourned in mid-March . This came after the General Assembly had already completed the majority of their 40-day legislation session. But with the coronavirus quickly worsening at the time and a cluster of cases emerging from within the Legislature, officials needed to return to their homes and hunker down.
Now after a nearly 3-month hiatus, the Legislature is set to resume, but the legislative landscape looks vastly different than before. The pandemic blew a massive hole in the state’s budget, and unemployment, while lower than expected , is still worse than Great Recession levels. Given all of this, and with only 11 legislative days left on the calendar, lawmakers’ primary focus will be shoring up the budget, but they also must lower barriers to employment to get Georgia working again.
However, due to the General Assembly’s structure, after Crossover Day, which was on March 12, the Legislature can only consider bills that passed at least one chamber—unless officials employ some creative parliamentary maneuvers. Yet in a state that prides itself on cutting red tape and being the number one place to do business , few pieces of legislation that substantially reduce superfluous employment barriers crossed over in the 2020 session.
Indeed, it appears that only Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White) and Rep. Heath Clark (R-Warner Robins) can claim the honor of having sponsored such measures. They introduced companion bills—SB 316 /HB 914 —that their respective chambers both passed unanimously. Their efforts seek to make it easier for military spouses to get back to work, and given the state of Georgia’s economy, the passage of these bills feels critical.
“Spouses of active military members face far too many hardships,” said Rep. Clark, and he’s right. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, military spouses’ unemployment rate was more than four times  higher than the national average, and roughly 35-40 percent  of these spouses were underemployed. Considering the havoc that the pandemic wreaked on the economy, it’s safe to assume that military spouses’ difficulties have worsened.
As it stands, military spouses relocate 10 times as frequently as the average American, and following each move, many must struggle to find new employment because service members aren’t paid particularly well . Indeed, military families often rely on two incomes. However, before military spouses can go to work, many must obtain a state-specific occupational license in order to get the government’s permission to work. In fact, between 35 and 50 percent  of military spouses work in fields that require a professional license, and these aren’t always easy to obtain. They often require applicants to take additional education, complete exams and pay the state for the privilege of working—even if an outside state has already licensed them, and the applicants have decades of experience.
All of this takes time and money, making it more likely that military spouses will struggle to support their families and will be forced to apply for taxpayer-funded assistance. This isn’t a new problem either. The General Assembly already gave licensing boards the discretion  to recognize, if they wish, out-of-state licenses of military spouses who moved to Georgia because of a military transfer. This could apply to a considerable number too, given that more than 60,000 active services members live in Georgia  and more than half are married. However, during the 2020 legislative session, several instances of licensing boards ignoring the spirit of the original legislation emerged, making it difficult for military spouses to find gainful employment.
Sen. Thompson and Rep. Clark’s legislation would address this and mandate that licensing boards provide expedited licensure by endorsement to military spouses who relocate to Georgia due to military transfers, hold an out of state license in good standing and meet certain other requirements. This will help them more easily get back to work, lower Georgia’s unemployment rate and thereby reduce taxpayer burden.
Earlier this year, Sen. Thompson announced, “It’s critical that we take care of our veterans and active members of the military, but we can’t forget military spouses either.” His point is even more salient today. A few weeks ago, America celebrated another Memorial Day. Perhaps we can honor service members and their families in ways other than having beers over the barbecue.
Georgians will have a hard-enough time finding work in this economy. The government shouldn’t make it harder. Indeed, the last thing Georgia needs to do is make it more difficult for Georgians—including military spouses—to work, and that’s why the Legislature absolutely must pass Sen. Thompson and Rep. Clark’s legislation without demur.
- “mid-March”: http://www.senate.ga.gov/sos/Documents/Session_Suspension_Signed_Joint_Letter_3.13.2020.pdf
- “while lower than expected”: https://www.savannahnow.com/news/20200605/us-unemployment-drops-unexpectedly-to-still-high-133
- “number one place to do business”: https://gov.georgia.gov/press-releases/2019-09-10/gov-kemp-georgia-named-top-state-business-6th-straight-year
- “SB 316”: http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/en-US/display/20192020/SB/316
- “HB 914”: http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/en-US/display/20192020/HB/914
- “four times”: https://www.cnn.com/2017/08/02/politics/ivanka-trump-military-spouses-employment/index.html
- “35-40 percent”: https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/sites/default/files/Military%20Spouses%20in%20the%20Workplace.pdf
- “aren’t paid particularly well”: https://www.businessinsider.com/how-much-military-service-members-make-2019-2
- “35 and 50 percent”: https://news.syr.edu/blog/2014/02/11/military-spouse-study-finds-high-number-of-female-spouses-underemployed-15198/
- “gave licensing boards the discretion”: http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/20152016/162452.pdf
- “ 60,000 active services members live in Georgia”: https://www.governing.com/gov-data/public-workforce-salaries/military-civilian-active-duty-employee-workforce-numbers-by-state.html