In an effort to help military spouses hold onto their jobs, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced new legislation Thursday to create universal licensing standards for a host of professions and to modify state residency rules to ease barriers for frequently moving families.
“We have a whole pool of people who are talented, who have the skills we need for our jobs, and we put up all these barriers to them,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., one of the sponsors of the measure. “This is a way not just to help military spouses, but to help the economy as a whole.”
The bill — dubbed the Portable Certification of Spouses Act — was unveiled on the eve of Military Spouse Appreciation Day at a Capitol Hill event featuring second lady Karen Pence, whose son serves in the Marine Corps.
She announced plans for a White House summit next week with leaders from 46 national businesses to talk about ways to create more job opportunities for the spouses of servicemembers, calling it a critical need for the country.
“Spouses are the backbone of the military family, and they can contribute directly to the strength and readiness of our troops,” Pence said. “It is imperative we support them, because they play a significant role in the defense of our nation.”
Defense Department surveys have shown that about one in four military spouses are unemployed, despite efforts in recent years to find solutions to job challenges facing them. About one-third of those with jobs are in careers that require some type of state occupational license.
States have adopted a patchwork of rules surrounding credentialing and re-licensing rules surrounding military spouses, but many still face long waits and complicated paperwork when seeking a job after a military move.
The new measure aims to fix that in two ways. First, spouses could maintain state residency even after a move, allowing them to keep their current business licenses without running afoul of state laws. Active-duty troops can already choose whether to change their state residency with each move.
Andrea Krull, a Navy wife and public affairs consultant with her own firm, said in the last 15 years as a military spouse she has had eight different addresses. Having to file new business paperwork after every move is confusing and time-consuming.
“And that is time I’m not earning money for my family,” she said at the Capitol Hill press conference. “The rules now really discourage entrepreneurship in the community.”
The new proposal would also provide $10 million over the next five years to create “uniform standards for licenses” to allow spouses working as teachers, nurses, realtors and other occupations to get around state credentialing laws.
Defense Department officials would oversee the creation of interstate compacts to handle the work, avoiding past concerns from state officials about the expenses related to simplifying the processes.
Along with Shaheen, the measure is being sponsored by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif.; and Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind. All four — members of their respective chamber’s armed services committee — said they hope to include the proposals in the annual defense authorization bill debate in coming weeks.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.