Kooyenga: A licensure crisis

By State Sen. Dale Kooyenga

Last month, an informational hearing in the Assembly Regulatory Licensing Reform Committee shed light on a reality that many people who have tried obtaining or renewing a professional license are already familiar with: Wisconsin is in a licensure crisis.

Speakers representing professions including nursing, occupational and physical therapy, counselors, social work and others shared the extent of the problem of growing, egregious delays in getting a professional credential, a government permission slip that is a prerequisite to performing many jobs.

Some applicants reported waiting six months or more to get approved. Others said the state Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) that handles most licenses lost their paperwork and then could not be reached by phone. Some said DSPS cashed their check but never issued the license. Others took their exam but the results never got recorded.

Whatever the specific problems, countless people are unable to work in their chosen field while they wait, even though many are licensed in good standing in another state.

I do not often use terms like “crisis,” but this is truly a nightmare for the growing number of applicants affected as well as for the growing backlogs of people who need the services they would be providing, like mental health counseling.

My office has assisted dozens of people to get expedited help from DSPS, and Empower Wisconsin has shared some of their stories. However, not everyone is aware that their local legislator can help. Long-term solutions are necessary. That’s why I have long prioritized reforms that streamline the licensure process, reduce delays, and eliminate unnecessary requirements.

Assembly Bill 218 (Senate Bill 233) imposes a “passive review” process for professional license applications recommended for approval by DSPS. Delays by licensing boards can be a major source of longer than necessary wait times, so this bill ensures that bureaucratic foot-dragging by licensing boards is limited to 10 days. AB 218 is now 2021 Wisconsin Act 118.

There has also been a spike in substance use disorders during the Covid era. This problem is being compounded by a huge shortage of qualified AODA (Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse) counselors and is now exacerbated by massive delays in getting these government permission slips.

That’s why I authored Assembly Bill 686 (Senate Bill 657), which allows certified Advanced Practice Social Workers and certified Independent Social Workers to provide much-needed substance use treatment. This bill will hopefully provide some incremental relief for a substance use epidemic that has grown much worse over the past two years. AB 686 is a bipartisan bill that passed the Senate and Assembly unanimously and I am hopeful the governor will sign it.

Licensing laws not only make it harder to get to work, they can also make life harder for a given group of professionals once they are practicing, often for no reason.

Senate Bill 344 addresses this problem for interior designers. The bill provides more flexibility for Registered Interior Designers to perform their work. Under the prior law, interior designers must pay for and get approval from an architect for their interior remodeling plans on commercial projects. This can be a costly procedural step.

Among other things, this bill allows Registered Interior Designers to seal their own plans without necessarily paying for the consultation of an architect and gives Registered Interior Designers representation on the board overseeing their profession. SB 344 is now 2021 Wisconsin Act 195.

In addition, it makes sense in many cases to allow a clearly qualified person to get straight to work while their application makes its way through the process. This session I authored Senate Bill 232 that allows DSPS and its boards to create a provisional status for credentials. Many professionals, in particular those already credentialed in good standing in another state, would be able to get to work immediately. While this bill passed the Senate unanimously, unfortunately it did not pass the Assembly.

At the Assembly hearing, DSPS representatives and others said the department needs more staff to handle growing numbers of applications, a case they made prior to the budget and I supported their request. While the new staff did not make it into the final budget, the department also recently asked other state agencies to transfer some staff to help on a temporary basis. I am glad they made this move but wish they would have done it sooner since surges in demand are often seasonal around graduations and exam times.

As I mentioned, the bills discussed above and many similar ones I have worked on are the product of constituents contacting my office and sharing their experiences. If you are stuck in a licensing delay, please let me know and my office will be glad to assist you.

Sen. Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) represents Wisconsin’s 5th Senate District. He may be reached at Sen.Kooyenga@legis.wisconsin.gov

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