July is Military Consumer Month, so it’s the perfect time to consider the unique challenges of America’s military members and their families. Among the many sacrifices made by military families are frequent relocations, typically every 2 or 3 years. Moving to a new duty station often means that the member’s spouse must find a new job in a new state. For spouses who need a state-issued license to work, each move can involve paperwork, fees, and delays in order to obtain a new license. In some cases, the new state has different licensing standards that require additional education or training, or taking a new qualifying exam. In the face of these obstacles, military spouses may have to choose between staying behind in order to work, or giving up working in their profession in order to move with their spouse.
The FTC is committed to shining a light on unnecessary licensing requirements that create significant barriers to work and impose costs throughout the economy. Even when some licensing requirement makes sense to protect consumers, state-by-state differences can make it unduly difficult or costly for workers to move.
Last year, then-Acting Chairman Ohlhausen created the FTC’s Economic Liberty Task Force to work with state partners and other interested stakeholders to bring greater attention to the burdens of unnecessary licensing. Last summer, we convened a roundtable of experts to talk about ways to make it easier for workers in state-licensed occupations to move to or work in other states, including state-based initiatives to provide portability for licenses held by military spouses. Last fall, we hosted a fireside chat featuring several military spouses telling their personal stories of how licensing requirements has affected their ability to work.
Last week brought welcome news on this front: The Supreme Court of Florida, at the recommendation of the Florida Bar, adopted new rules to allow attorney-spouses of military members based in the state to apply for permission to practice law in Florida. Starting in September, spouses of military members stationed in Florida who are licensed to practice law in any other jurisdiction can obtain a Florida certificate to practice without taking another bar exam. The certificate is good for 5 years, and is designed to “accommodate the unique mobility requirements of members of the U.S. Armed Services and their families.”
According to the Military Spouse JD Network, an organization that promotes license portability for attorneys who are married to a member of the military, it’s not unusual for a military spouse attorney to have taken 3 or 4 different bar exams. According to its website, less than one-third of their members have full-time legal employment; half of their members are unemployed and others work part-time or in non-attorney positions as paralegals or secretaries. Their biggest challenge: frequent moves combined with lack of portable employment opportunities.
But that’s changing: Florida is the 31st state to ease licensing burdens for military attorney-spouses, and it is home to many in the armed forces. Through the work of DOD’s State Liaison Office, other initiatives are expanding opportunities for licensing portability through interstate compacts and model laws. These initiatives are not limited to lawyers, but include nurses, teachers, physical therapists, and other licensed professionals.
In the words of the Florida Supreme Court, “the new rules give form to the abiding gratitude we all share for the men and women who voluntarily serve in the U.S. Armed Services and the sacrifices endured by their families.” A powerful reminder that we can do more to support military families by reducing licensing burdens for military spouses.