Spouses of military members are used to moving every few years, and they often have to put their careers on hold when they need a professional license to work in their new state.
A proposal in Missouri’s Legislature would ease that problem by having the state honor professional licenses held by military spouses who are transferred from other states.
“If we can do this to show our support for our military families and getting our military spouses jobs quickly and easily, that not only benefits that spouse, it benefits the whole family,” said state Rep. Steve Lynch, R-Waynesville.
He is sponsoring the bill that would make military spouses’ licenses for fields including dentistry and landscape architecture valid in Missouri. Teacher certifications are not included in the bill.
Lynch said military families give up so much for one member of the family to serve that it’s the least the state can do to show its support.
But Lynch’s motivations are also economic. His district includes Fort Leonard Wood in the Ozarks — an area that often struggles in recruiting highly trained professionals to work in the region. Lynch said military spouses are a largely untapped well of potential workers.
“Good grief, we’ve got thousands of jobs sitting here in Missouri that we can’t get filled because we don’t have qualified people for them,” Lynch said.
Vanessa Aldred echoes that thought. She works as a corporate recruiter, and her husband is a colonel in the Air Force stationed at Fort Leonard Wood. She said military spouses are an untapped well of excellent employees because many of them are so highly trained and bring other skills to the table.
“They also, just as a byproduct of who they married, have developed these soft skills that I, from experience, know that employers really covet. Which is resiliency, resourcefulness, grit, flexibility,” Aldred said.
License reciprocity could have helped Megan Setter. She is a social worker in Waynesville, and her husband is an Army officer stationed at Fort Leonard Wood. Setter was licensed in Hawaii before their transfer to Missouri in 2018. It took her six months to get a Missouri license.
“My career was put on hold,” Setter said.
In addition to the delay before she could be employed as a social worker, she faced economic challenges. Getting her license meant fees to apply, a trip to St. Louis to take a test, another to Springfield to be fingerprinted, and other costs that came at the worst possible time while trying to set up a new home.
“When you have to choose between paying $300 to put on your electricity versus my license, that’s going to come first, because we have to pay the bills and put the lights on,” Setter said.
Setter has been licensed for more than a year. She works at a shelter for abused women, helping them get their lives on track. She has created new programs so innovative that she has been asked to present them at a national conference.
But she will have to start over again. Her husband is being transferred to Fort Campbell in three months.
“Fort Campbell is unique because it sits on the Kentucky and Tennessee lines,” Setter said. “So I will likely have to be licensed in Kentucky and Tennessee, just to be on the safe side.”
Neither of those states is among the 15 in the country, including Illinois, that have license reciprocity for military spouses.
The issue has the attention and support of Gov. Mike Parson. He asked for the legislation during his state of the state speech, and he went to Fort Leonard Wood to hold a private roundtable discussion with military spouses.
Parson, an Army veteran, said he wants to support military members and their families. But he is also looking at this as a solution to some of Missouri’s economic problems.
“We know in Missouri what the workforce demand is right now. I don’t think that demand is going to go down anytime soon,” Parson said after meeting with the spouses. “And I think we need to start preparing for that, and the military is a great resource. They’re here, and there is no reason we’re not helping with that.”
There are few opponents, but they cite concerns that other states have less rigorous standards for licensing professionals, especially in areas where they could be dealing with public-safety issues like structural engineering or medical fields.
But Parson said the bigger concern is lawmakers trying to add too much to the bill and making license reciprocity extend past military spouses to other people moving to Missouri.
“What I am leery of is getting too much stuff in this bill in Jefferson City early on, and everyone jumps on it because it’s a popular bill, and all of a sudden you start delaying the process,” Parson said.
Parson has asked the Legislature for a “clean bill,” and Lynch said that is what he is trying to move through the Legislature. But he also said he sees license reciprocity for military spouses as a first step.
“I think greater levels of license reciprocity is going to be the wave of the future,” Lynch said. “It’s just a matter of when Missouri gets around to passing it and takes advantage of talented people who are coming here.”
Lynch’s bill passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate. The governor said he would sign legislation as soon as he can if it is passed.
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