Military spouses, local organizations speak up for licensing bill
HONOR THEIR SERVICE: HB 1111
The House Bill that aims to ease the process for military members and their spouses to get professional licenses in-state, has been making its way through the legislature unopposed.
Men and women in and around Rapid City are speaking up for HB 1111 in order to pave the way for future military spouses to readily continue employment in South Dakota.
“There’s a workforce shortage in most fields in South Dakota, Rapid City and the Black Hills,” said Scott Landguth, executive director of the Ellsworth Development Authority. “Having that pool of talent come in and having that ability to get them to work quickly with little delay is very important.”
In the summer of 2018, Ellsworth Air Force Base conducted a survey of military spouses to find the overall impact of the licensing issue.
“Over 70 percent of our spouses said ‘I’m in a profession that requires a military license’,” said Lauren Kimball, Ellsworth AFB spouse. “When I look at the squadron in which my husband is affiliated in, over half the spouses, the issue affects them.”
Since the survey, the issue has been spoken out about by other spouses and local organizations affected by the issue.
“I’ve been licensed in Texas, Arizona, Utah, and South Dakota,” said Jessica Bacon, local dental hygienist and military spouse. “It’s monotony, going through the same steps over and over again getting licensed.”
For Bacon, it took a full year to get a permanent license due to insufficient wording on certain paperwork and limitations with quarterly board meetings.
Previous language of a military spouse licensing law only called for the “expedited issuance of a” license, certificate, registration, or permit. The proposed changes call for issuance within 30 days.
Seth Lange, a local civil engineer whose wife is in the Air Force, holds licenses in Florida, Louisiana, North Dakota, Texas, and South Dakota.
“It’s a little bit of a burden,” said Lange. “The big thing would be is that I found out from this last move, keeping up with professional development hours as far as the boards, you have to meet certain hours each year and those can get costly.”
Moving from state to state overtime, spouses can pay hundreds to thousands of dollars in fees. The proposed bill removes application fees for those active duty and spouses who apply.
Licensing, certificates, and permits affect careers in dentistry, nursing, teaching, cosmetology, pharmacists, engineering, architecture, and more. For those who’ve been through it, changing the system for the people it currently effects and those it will affect.
“When I found out how many spouses this affected just in my squadron, it became a passion project and I said ‘we have to do something’,” said Kimball. “How do we get more people involved to really educate and really make movement and I think that’s just important.”
By writing letters to state lawmakers, sending emails, and even traveling to Pierre to speak before legislators, these spouses, the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce, Ellsworth Development Authority and many others have been working on getting the information out about spouse licensing for months.
“This has been a joint effort between the base, downtown community, and the legislators to really come together to crack this nut,” said Kimball. “How do we make it a little easier for spouses to work in South Dakota.”
For many spouses, finding work in their field is their way of continuing their dreams while still supporting their spouses with theirs.
“I had my career before I got married and I want to continue my career and I think a lot of spouses struggle to just get through hurdles every time they move,” said Bacon.
“My wife would say I’m a workaholic but I’ve always enjoyed what I do,” said Lange. “If this bill goes through, it’d be a great opportunity for everyone to either start working or help with future involvement or future employment.”
“Military spouses have been vocal about the importance of their careers to the Air Force for a long time and in many different ways,” said Kimball. “So the Air Force and service secretary said ‘we’re going to make this a criteria for basing decisions. What you have is a confluence of many different factors coming together where the spouses are saying, ‘this is important to our quality of life’ and the Air Force is saying, ‘we hear you’ and the community is saying ‘we’re behind you.’ I think that’s what’s really powerful about this bill.”
On Wednesday, HB 1111 was approved unanimously in the Senate Military Affairs Committee.
During the hearing, only one person spoke out against the bill, arguing it doesn’t account for people not in the military that move into South Dakota with similar career goals.
Sen. Red Dawn Foster voted for the bill after suggesting a few provisions be made to tighten specifics for different industries.
The bill now awaits the Senate floor.