ATLANTA — As Georgia grapples with a severe workforce shortage, a Senate committee is looking at changing laws and policies that keep skilled professionals, including doctors and nurses, waiting a year or more to get to work.

What’s Happening

The Senate Study Committee on Occupational Licensing heard this week from several experts with insights into the bureaucratic barriers plaguing skilled workers.

Many occupational licenses in Georgia are issued by one of 43 licensing boards housed in the Professional Licensing Boards Division of the secretary of state’s office. They cover 197 license types, including cosmetologists, nurses, social workers, foresters, architects and plumbers. Other professions are regulated by independent state boards, including doctors, engineers and realtors.

About 30% of U.S. workers need a license to work, said Marc Hyden, director of state government affairs for R Street Institute, a public policy think tank based in Washington, D.C.

Hyden praised recent laws passed in Georgia that have expedited the process for veterans and military spouses with professional skills to obtain licenses when they move into the state. But he said more reforms are needed.

The licensing division is understaffed and underfunded, Hyden said, and receives only $8.5 million of the $24 million it generates from licensing fees. This lack of resources prevents some boards from providing timely and efficient service, he said, creating a backlog of prospective skilled workers.

About 27% of professional license applications administered by the Professional Licensing Board Division take a year or more to process, according to the secretary of state. The rest can take up to six months. Some boards are relying on paper applications, mail service and manual processes to handle applications.

Why It Matters

Hyden noted that other states manage to issue licenses within 30 days, in part because their boards are better staffed and meet more often — monthly, instead of quarterly, as with some Georgia boards…