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Study finds occupational licensing hurdles for certain groups

An independent California state oversight agency released a comprehensive study in October that assessed barriers to obtaining occupational and professional licenses in the state. The Little Hoover Commission found in its report that four groups of people face barriers to obtaining licenses to work in certain professions in the state: criminal-record holders, military spouses, veterans and foreign-trained workers.

The report provides comprehensive information about California occupational licensing, which is heavily regulated and administered by several state agencies, most predominantly the Department of Consumer Affairs. The purposes of requiring occupational and professional licenses for certain professions include consumer protection and a desire to professionalize certain jobs, but in the state's efforts to meet these goals through a rigorous licensing process, the four groups mentioned above can face unique barriers to becoming licensed.

It can be important for someone facing such barriers to talk to an attorney about their challenges in obtaining a license or appealing a denied application. A lawyer familiar with legal issues related to professional licensure can help with the application, documentation gathering and, if necessary, review or appeal. Legal counsel can also assist the applicant by communicating with the licensing authorities on his or her behalf.

When we think of licensed professionals, the first jobs that come to mind are often doctors, dentists, psychologists, nurses, real estate brokers and similar professionals. But many, many more jobs require licensure or at least certification by the state of California. For example, the report lists the top 10 licensed occupations in the state by the number of licenses, with the most licenses being held by registered nurses, followed in descending order by the following:

  • Registered nurse
  • Insurance agent or broker
  • Teacher
  • Investment agent or representative
  • Security guard
  • Cosmetologist
  • Real estate salesperson
  • Contractor
  • Lawyer
  • Real estate broker

Turning to the difficulties found by the commission for the four groups, former criminal offenders may not understand if their particular criminal histories will impede them from getting the licenses they desire. One problem cited is that when an application asks for information about criminal convictions, the applicant may do his or her best to be accurate, but may not understand exactly how to respond or may have an incorrect memory or understanding of the legal status of the matter.

An attorney may be particularly helpful for an applicant with a criminal history because counsel can help provide accurate criminal history and also advocate for the applicant, when appropriate and allowed, for consideration of whether the particular conviction is substantially related to the nature of the profession associated with the license.

The main problem faced by the other three groups is that they received training and education in other states or countries and even held licenses and worked in their chosen fields there, but their qualifications may not match California requirements for licensure. The study makes recommendations for the state legislature to address these issues by looking at adopting license reciprocity with other jurisdictions when appropriate, considering partial or provisional licensure, and making other reforms.

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