Arizona leads on occupational licensing reform
Arizona has been notably active on occupational licensing reform in recent years, becoming the first state to implement Right to Earn a Living and universal licensure recognition laws. We review the major changes to occupational regulations initiated by Gov. Doug Ducey that have made Arizona a leader in reform.

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Occupational licensing reform has gained momentum across the United States in recent years, with dozens of states enacting or pursuing reforms in order to reduce barriers to employment for workers. Arizona has taken a notably active approach to regulatory reform under the leadership of Republican Governor Doug Ducey. Over the last few years, Arizona became the first state to implement Right to Earn a Living and universal licensure recognition laws, moves which have been replicated in several other states since.

Here’s an overview of Arizona’s major changes to occupational licensing regulations over the last several years, which have made The Grand Canyon State a leader in reform.

Governor Ducey takes aim at occupational licensing reform

One year after entering office in January 2015, Governor Ducey delivered his second State of the State address which took direct aim at reforming Arizona’s occupational licensing requirements. “Arizona requires licenses for too many jobs – resulting in a maze of bureaucracy for small businesspeople looking to earn an honest living,” he said. “The elites and special interests will tell you that these licenses are necessary. But often they have been designed to kill competition or keep out the little guy. So let’s eliminate them.”

Following the address, in May 2016 the state legislature passed its first slate of occupational licensing reforms with HB 2613, which delicensed five occupations: driving instructors, citrus fruit packers, fruit and vegetable packers, yoga instructors, and assayers (an occupation that tests metal, ores, and minerals to determine how pure they are). As noted in a report by the Arkansas Center for Research in Economics (ACRE) examining occupational licensing reform across the U.S., with the exception of yoga instructors, practitioners disagreed with the move to deregulate their occupations, citing public safety concerns at a hearing prior to the bill’s passage.

Right to Earn a Living Act limits licensing restrictions, allows applicants to challenge boards

In April 2017, just days after Governor Ducey signed an executive order requiring regulatory boards to justify licensing requirements that are found to be overly burdensome, he signed SB 1437, known as the Right to Earn a Living Act, into law. The new law was modeled on legislation created by the Goldwater Institute, a free-market public policy think tank that had been advocating for occupational licensing reform for several years. The law made two important changes to how occupational licensing was conducted in Arizona. Firstly, it requires that licensing regulations “be limited to those demonstrated to be necessary to specifically fulfill a public health, safety, or welfare concern.” Secondly, it allows Arizonans who have been harmed by existing regulations to ask the regulator to repeal or modify the regulation, and if the agency doesn’t, the individual can challenge the regulation in court. Arizona was the first state to pass the Right to Earn a Living Act, but other states have since followed by passing their own versions of the law.

In September 2017, Annette Stanley submitted a petition under the new law’s provisions to the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners questioning one of its rules that was preventing her from obtaining a professional counselor’s license to practice in Arizona. Instead of facing a court challenge, the Board decided to modify the regulation in question and Stanley was granted her license. However, economists writing on deregulation across the U.S. noted in their January 2021 report that Arizona’s Right to Earn a Living Act had not led to any successful delicensing of an occupation via a lawsuit so far.

Arizona becomes first state to pass universal licensure recognition law in 2019

In April 2019, Arizona once again made history by becoming the first state to adopt a universal licensure recognition law. HB 2569 allows new residents who are licensed in other states to quickly obtain the same license in Arizona, provided that: they have been licensed to practice for at least one year; they are in good standing with the boards that have already licensed them; they do not have any past or present investigations or complaints; they pay applicable Arizona fees; and they meet all residency, testing, and background check requirements. Although new residents must still apply for a license with the appropriate Arizona licensing board (i.e., the out-of-state license is not recognized automatically), the process is expedited and allows the applicant to skip time-consuming training requirements.

Arizona’s implementation of a universal licensure recognition law was widely praised for reducing the barriers to worker mobility caused by licensing processes. In a December 2021 update on occupational licensing reform, the Office of Governor Ducey noted that Arizona had issued over 4,000 licenses through universal recognition since 2019, saving new residents time, money, and effort in getting re-licensed. The law’s success has inspired other states to follow Arizona’s lead. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 11 states had enacted universal licensure recognition laws as of March 2021, with bills in three additional states pending at that time.

2021 bill allows out-of-state professionals to practice telemedicine in Arizona; reforms continue in 2022

Arizona’s leadership on reform continued in 2021 with the state’s passage of HB 2454, a comprehensive telehealth bill that made temporary changes enacted during the pandemic permanent. In addition to other reforms, the bill expands telehealth access to patients and allows out-of-state health care professionals to provide telemedicine in Arizona. The Arizona Medical Association (ArMA) advocated for the bill’s passage since its introduction, and Dr. Miriam Anand, president of ArMA, called it “a win for physicians and patients alike.”

In January 2022, Governor Ducey signed another executive order that renewed the moratorium on rulemaking introduced in 2015 to promote job creation and economic development. The order stipulated that every new regulation must be approved by the governor’s office and accompanied by the removal of three existing regulations. In addition, the order requires professional licensing boards to prominently post on their websites all policies that can ease licensing burdens for applicants and the steps they must take to obtain a license under these policies. Boards must also have a designated area on their websites that includes licensing information specifically for military spouses, active-duty service members, and veterans.

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Ariel Visconti
Written byAriel Visconti
Ariel Visconti researches and writes on government and politics, regulation, occupational licensing, and emerging technologies.

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