If the past few years have taught policymakers anything, it’s that there are glaring gaps in the Peach State’s workforce, which are adversely impacting Georgians of all walks of life. The state is facing dangerous shortages of healthcare professionals, police officers and even firefighters. Meanwhile, public safety and health have suffered, but this hasn’t gone unnoticed by Gov. Brian Kemp or the Georgia General Assembly.

In Kemp’s State of the State address, he highlighted the need to shore up public safety and for more healthcare workers, and many within the legislature seem to agree. Just days ago, Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-14) introduced a bill to ameliorate the situation, and encourage healthcare and public safety professionals to relocate to Georgia.

“I want Georgia to become the safest, healthiest and most prosperous state in the nation,” Sen. Thompson said after introducing his legislation, “but we have work to do before we can reach that standard. This bill is a step toward achieving that goal.” Passage of this legislation can’t come soon enough; the staffing shortages are dire.

Georgia has the country’s 5th lowest number of nurses per capita and the 11th worst physician-to-patient ratio. In fact, 64 counties don’t have a pediatrician, 79 are without an obstetrician/gynecologist and nine have no medical doctors whatsoever, according to a 2018 report. It’s easy to see how this can lead to negative public health outcomes, but the COVID-19 pandemic exposed these vulnerabilities and exacerbated them. Georgia’s understaffed healthcare facilities were—and remain—stretched to the limit, but staffing woes go far beyond the healthcare industry.

The National Police Foundation reports that 86 percent of the nation’s police departments have reported staffing shortages—shortages that are felt right here in Georgia. In Atlanta, for instance, “there are 1,603 officers currently on the force, about 400 short of its ‘authorized strength’ of 2,046 total officers,” according to a December 2020 report. Meanwhile, violent crimes have been rising over the past couple years in Georgia and especially in Atlanta. Compounding matters even further, Atlanta and Coweta County have experienced firefighter shortages too.

Filling these gaps takes some creativity, given that Georgia boasts an all-time low unemployment rate of 2.6 percent. Low unemployment rates generally represent a robust and healthy economy, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. “Pre-COVID, there were 3 openings for every person looking for a job in our state,” reads a Georgia Chamber of Commerce report.

Put simply, Georgia needs to attract and import more talent to address its workforce deficiencies, and the General Assembly has worked toward these goals. Because of their efforts, many professions are now part of interstate compacts — permitting licensed or certified workers to relocate and work in Georgia more easily—but they still face impediments. It stands to reason that many healthcare and public safety professionals may opt against relocating to Georgia, if their spouses will struggle to find gainful employment here. Due to burdensome state occupational licensing requirements, many do, in fact, have difficulty getting work.

In order to attract necessary talent to Georgia, Sen. Thompson’s bill would ensure that spouses of healthcare providers, law enforcement officers and firefighters who relocate to Georgia would be able to more easily obtain quality jobs. This measure would do so by expanding already existing law, which would limit unnecessary regulatory requirements to obtain a professional license to work.

If passed, the proposal would direct licensing boards to offer expedited licensure by endorsement to individuals who meet specific criteria, which would ensure that the public is protected from unskilled and unscrupulous workers. In order to qualify, applicants would need to be married to a healthcare professional, firefighter or police officer who relocates to Georgia and obtains employment in the aforementioned fields; hold an out-of-state occupational license that is in good standing and is substantially similar to the requirements in Georgia before relocating here; and pass any necessary examination to demonstrate knowledge of Georgia’s laws.

While Sen. Thompson made it clear that some occupational licenses are absolutely necessary, he asserts that licensing regimes can serve as barriers to employment, inhibit economic mobility and create workforce shortages to Georgia’s detriment. By reducing needless barriers for spouses of first responders who establish residency here, Georgia will attract the desperately needed talent to put the Peach State on better footing for years to come.

Image credit: virtustudio

Featured Publications