State committee investigates professional license delays, inefficiency (2024)

The Gist

Business owners and professionals across the state are frustrated by the lack of efficiency when applying for professional licenses. This summer, state legislators have decided to dig deep to find the necessary solutions.

What’s Happening

State legislators this week held the inaugural meeting of a joint blue-ribbon committee to investigate problems within the Secretary of State’s Professional Licensing Boards Division.

In May, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and House Speaker Jon Burns announced the appointment of the committee following numerous complaints from Georgia professionals who have faced difficulties in obtaining or renewing a license.

“Small businesses across this country are the lifeblood of our country; they’re the lifeblood of our economy here in Georgia and are successful here in Georgia,” Burns said in the meeting. “Without an educated, licensed, workforce where the license is required, we have a problem.”

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, over 545,000 Georgians have active professional licenses — a 24% increase since 2018. If professionals can’t obtain or renew licenses in a timely manner, essential services for Georgia, such as nursing and small business, will be impacted. Many of the complaints cite website issues, time delays and failure to respond to emails and phone calls.

Jones and Burns made the announcement of the committee in a letter addressed to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who responded with pushback. Raffensperger told state lawmakers in May that the state is redirecting millions of dollars intended for the licensing division to its general fund.

Raffensperger also noted that the Legislature failed to pass bills this past session that could have addressed licensing issues. For instance, House Bill 1096 would have allowed the professional licensing division to modernize its tracking system on continuing education, freeing up the staff to focus on processing new applications rather than hand-auditing continuing education. Similarly, HB 1190 would have allowed the secretary of state’s division director to administratively issue noncontroversial licenses instead of requiring applicants to wait for their applications to be heard by a processing board, which meets only every few months.

Lawmakers did, however, cut through some licensing red tape this year. Marriage and family therapists can now get expedited licenses, and workers who shampoo, blow-dry and braid hair and apply makeup no longer need a license to work.

Raffensperger was not in attendance at this week’s meeting, but Gabriel Sterling, the secretary of state’s chief operating officer, gave a presentation outlining the goals of the division. According to Sterling, the primary mission of the licensing division is to “get Georgians work.”

“We can’t tell a [licensing] board to do anything,” Sterling said. “They are the issuer of the license — we’re there to provide administrative support.”

The Georgia Online Application Licensing System (GOALS) under the secretary of state was created in 2023 to expedite the licensing process and is approaching the second phase of its rollout to support professionals.

Sterling and his office are attempting to tackle licensing hurdles such as dislocated workers, military barriers to work and limitations for those with a criminal background.

Why It Matters

In the meantime, many state agencies are operating with staff shortages, outdated processing methods and other problems that make it difficult for everyday Georgians to do their jobs — ranging from nursing to surveying land to running a business. Processing licenses highlights the bureaucracy.

Sterling was met with several questions and suggestions by committee members, many of whom have been personally affected by Georgia’s licensing inefficiency.

But beyond the board, community members in attendance were experiencing the effects of the flawed licensing process.

Ava Williams from Byron was frustrated by the many months she’d spent trying to obtain a nursing license. Her application, she said, has been pending since April, and she was never given a timely or helpful response after making countless calls and emails.

In her statement to the committee, Williams said that after watching Sterling’s presentation, she felt there was no “accountability.”

“They took my money. They took my time. I can’t get it back,” Williams told the committee on Wednesday. “I sat here and I watched [Sterling] get his backpack and walk out. What needs to happen? Trim the fat. … I watched all of you give him great options, great choices, but he had an excuse for everything.”

What’s Next?

The committee will continue to meet throughout the year and hear from the public to develop its investigation. Its findings and recommendations must be published in a full report before the end of 2024.

Related stories:

House leadership sets up committee to look into licensing delays, prompting pushback from Raffensperger
Georgia considering occupational licensing reform

You can reach Nava Rawls at [emailprotected] or on X @navarawls.

State committee investigates professional license delays, inefficiency (2024)
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