Licensing bill to aid military spouses

TOPEKA — Military spouses may have an easier time getting a job when they move to Kansas under a bill being considered in the Legislature.

The House Committee on Federal and State Affairs is expected to approve House Bill 2178 next week — a bill that would require Kansas licensing bodies to grant licenses to nonresidents who move to Kansas with a military spouse.

The majority of military personnel stationed in Kansas are married. The Defense Manpower Data Center reports that 59 percent of all active-duty members are married. That number rises to 72 percent for noncommissioned officers and 73 percent for officers.

When members of the military are transferred to Kansas, they often bring along a spouse who is licensed in some private-sector field. Those spouses frequently delay their career while they transition their licenses, according to Martin Dempsey, an advocate on behalf of the military for a change in Kansas licensing law.

"These families come to Kansas, and the income of a nonmilitary spouse is often needed for the family to make it," said Dempsey, a state liaison for the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Military Community and Family Policy.

House Bill 2178 would require that any licensing body in the state issue a temporary license to any applicant whose spouse is transferred to Kansas for active-duty service, as long as their license is current and in good standing in their previous state. That would include such occupations as teachers, dental hygienists and pharmacists.

Families who move to Wichita to work at McConnell Air Force Base could benefit from the legislation, allowing spouses to begin work in their civilian jobs more quickly. McConnell is home to 2,939 active-duty personnel, which means there could be more than 1,500 spouses working in Wichita.

"We don't know how many are professionally licensed, but even a small fraction would be a significant number," Dempsey said in regards to military spouses moving into the state. "Like all other families today, they depend on two incomes, and we just want to reduce the time they spend out of work."

The committee will consider action on the bill, possibly as soon as Monday, following testimony from several licensing agencies heard Wednesday.

Dempsey said the issue is receiving particular attention now as first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, launched a campaign last week to raise awareness of the needs of military families.

Two states, Florida and Colorado, have already enacted similar legislation. Kansas would be smart to join the list, said Rep. Mario Goico, R-Wichita, who said it could be an issue should military bases come up for closings in the future.

"If we want to keep our bases that we have, we've got to do what we can to be a military-friendly state," Goico told the committee Wednesday.

A potential change to the legislation could involve allowing licensing agencies to test applicants on issues relevant to the state. One such example would be having the applicant take a jurisprudence exam, as is the practice of the Kansas Dental Board, according to Betty Wright, executive director of the board.

Such a step would ensure "that the applicants are aware of the applicable laws for acceptable practice in Kansas," said Wright.

According to a legislative research assistant, the legislation would not apply to attorneys, because theirs are the only licenses not issued as an extension of the executive branch. They receive their Kansas licenses under the judicial branch.