RALEIGH — A bipartisan bill aimed at reducing occupational licensing issues that military personnel and their spouses face when trying to obtain private sector employment has passed unanimously in North Carolina’s state Senate.
Senate Bill 717 is sponsored by Sens. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg), Andy Wells (R-Catawba) and Don Davis (D-Pitt). The bill passed the Senate unanimously and was transferred to the House. Upon receipt, the House referred SB 717 to the House Committee on Homeland Security, Military, and Veterans Affairs, which will then send it on to the House Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House if approved.
“Veterans and their families have made countless sacrifices to serve our country, and we should do everything we can to make their transition to private employment in our state as seamless as possible. These families and military personnel have invaluable skill sets,” said Bryan in a statement. “North Carolina licensure standards should allow these credentials to transfer as easily and quickly as possible.”
The bill will require occupational licensing boards to approve or deny applications from all military trained personnel and military spouses within seven business days after receiving an application. In addition, the board in question must state the reasons for any denials.
Occupational licensing boards and state agency boards will be required to increase transparency in their processes.
One way of increasing transparency will be by publication of a summary of legal opportunities available to military members and their families in order to help gain a needed professional license more quickly. In the same vein, the Secretary of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs will publish pertinent information related to each occupational licensing board on the department’s website.
A second way the legislation will enact transparency will be through annual reporting. Licensing boards will be required to compile a report to be presented to the General Assembly and the secretary of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs annually, starting on Oct. 31, 2021.
The report will include such things as number of applicants, licenses granted, provisional approvals, denial statistics and summaries of denials.
The bill, if passed and signed by the governor, will be effective Dec. 1, 2020, and will apply to licensure applications received on or after that date.
Last year, a report by the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division looked at the aspects of the hurdles military families face in attempting to gain occupational licenses. That report was presented to lawmakers in February of 2020.
North Carolina has the third-largest active duty military population in the nation along with over 790,000 veterans.
With a number of large bases in the state, “more North Carolina adults are veterans than the national average: 8.3% versus 7.1% nationwide,” according to Demography North Carolina, an organization that analyzes population demographics and is housed by the Carolina Population Center.
The most recent employment statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the veteran unemployment rate nationwide jumped to 11.7% in April, representing over 1 million veterans. The April rate is close to triple that of March, when it was 3.5%, and is two points higher than it was during the 2008 recession.
April unemployment figures released by the N.C. Department of Commerce show that unemployment rose in all 100 counties and that 77 had unemployment rates over 10%. In March, only one county had a rate over 10%.
The unemployment figures for both veterans and general population have not gone unnoticed by Senate Republicans, who sent a letter to Gov. Roy Cooper on May 20 about addressing slow veteran benefit turn-around times.
The letter urged Cooper to address the long-delayed unemployment insurance claims submitted by military veterans and their families. The senators also asked Cooper to reassign staff from the N.C. Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to help the overwhelmed Division of Employment Security.
“It is unacceptable that men and women who served our country cannot even get a response back from their government during their time of need,” wrote the senators.
Two days earlier, on May 18, the Senate Commerce Committee heard testimony from citizens who had had missing benefits, and 1,435 comments from the public were submitted to a public portal by North Carolinians who still had not received their unemployment checks.