Before then-Speaker David Ralston, R-Ellijay, passed away, he expressed his desire for legislators to focus less on cultural issues in the 2023 legislative session and more on making Georgia increasingly competitive.

“If there’s something you want to talk to me about for next year’s General Assembly,” he said in a speech last year, “be sure you frame how it will impact opportunity in this state.”

While Ralston’s untimely death has prevented him from presiding over the 2023 legislative session, his influence and legacy looms large. Judging by many professional licensing bills floating around the Gold Dome, his envisioned “opportunity” session may still come to fruition, which could help solidify Georgia as one of the country’s top states for economic mobility.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about a budding effort to reform professional licensing in Georgia. Since then, lawmakers have begun debating a slew of licensing bills—ranging from broad reforms to measured tweaks—that are making their way through the Legislature.

It’s easy to see why lawmakers are zeroing in on licensure, given that it is one of the top government-created impediments to work. Around 30 percent of professionals need a license to earn a living, even including curious occupations like librarians and high school coaches; and Georgia boasts the dubious honor of having the country’s 12th most burdensome licensing regimes for lower-income occupations. They require Georgians to clear numerous costly and time-consuming hurdles in order to enjoy the privilege of providing for their families.

One of the larger bills of the year comes from Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough. It stands at a whopping 81 pages, but what it does is straightforward. Currently, many licensing boards have the power to reject someone’s occupational license application if they have a mark on their criminal record. However, the law permitting this is incredibly vague, which gives boards overbroad powers.

If passed, Sen. Strickland’s bill would remove nebulous language from the Georgia code by forbidding boards from applying “a vague character standard to licensure decisions or predeterminations, including, but not limited to, ‘good moral character,’ ‘moral turpitude,’ or ‘character and fitness,’” reads the bill.

In many cases, the legislation would also limit criminal-based licensing denials and revocations to only crimes that are directly related to the profession. This targeted approach will ensure that licensing boards aren’t summarily rejecting applications and will permit more individuals to find gainful employment. Such a measure would limit unemployment and likely curtail recidivism rates and jail populations, given that having a job reduces the likelihood of committing future crime.

While Sen. Strickland is focused on the criminal justice aspect of licensing reform, both Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, and Sen. Larry Walker, R-Perry, are looking to create some form of regulated interstate mobility act for occupational licenses. As it stands for most professions, if you have an out-of-state license and relocate here, then you may not get much credit for the time and work put into obtaining an out-of-state license—meaning applicants often have to begin the slow, expensive licensing process anew.

Rep. Martin’s and Sen. Walker’s bills are markedly different, but they both aim to require licensing boards to extend licensure by endorsement to individuals who move to Georgia and have an out-of-state license in good standing that’s incredibly similar to Georgia’s. What’s more, these bills are specifically designed to continue to protect consumers from unscrupulous and unqualified workers.

19 states already have a similar system in place where it has thrived. If passed here, it would make it easier and quicker for prospective workers to join Georgia’s workforce, which is needed, considering our rampant labor shortages and that Georgia is one of the most popular states to move to.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jenkins, R-Grantville, has sponsored a measure to restructure the regulation of certain niche beauty occupations. Under the current licensing mandates, people who work only as a blow-dryer, eyebrow threader, or those who apply makeup to the general public must obtain a cosmetologist license even though the training isn’t solely tailored to these specific occupations. Rather, students learn an array of unrelated skills, particularly including how to cut and color hair.

If approved, Rep. Jenkins’ bill would permit those in the aforementioned occupations to work without a cosmetologist license so long as they take a health and safety course, which seems entirely reasonable. After all, I’ve known how to safely blow dry my own hair for years without unnecessary government meddling, and I assume others can as well.

Legislative session is already over halfway over, but there seems to be a growing appetite to make substantive reforms to occupational licensing regimes and make it easier to get to work in the Peach State. Doing so would be a win for Georgia and, in a way, be staying true to the legislative session the late-Speaker David Ralston envisioned.