Gov. Northam signs legislation to ease spouse licensure process

Governor Ralph Northam

RICHMOND – Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation July 16 that gives the go-ahead for an expedited military spouse occupational and professional licensure process.

The former Army doctor touted it as a remedy for the “complex rules about license equivalence and the portability of certifications that too often result in the unemployment or underemployment of military spouses.”

Northam signed House Bill 967 during the opening moments of the quarterly Virginia Military Advisory Council meeting held at the Virginia War Memorial. Those witnessing the formalities included Blue Star Families CEO and Board President Kathy Roth-Douquet, Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Carlos Hopkins, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, Sen. David Suetterlein, Delegates Rodney Willett and Carrie Coyner, and several military spouses.

“As an Army veteran and as a Virginian, I am committed to ensuring the commonwealth continues to provide an environment where our veterans and military families can thrive,” Northam said during his pre-signing remarks. “This legislation will enable the spouses of the men and women who serve our country to maintain their professional licenses and continue their careers in Virginia with a streamlined and simple process.”

The benefit extends to spouses of National Guardsmen on title 10 orders, those accompanying service members in neighboring states seeking employment in Virginia, and the husbands and wives of recently transitioned military members.

A significant portion of the bill grants greater authority to the commonwealth’s licensing boards that determine a substantially equivalent license. They will have more leeway to issue automatic one-year temporary licenses, affording the spouse the opportunity to begin finding employment immediately upon settling into their new communities.

“Taking care of military families is of the utmost importance to us,” wrote Willett, Coyner and Suetterlein in a joint statement. “We are grateful for the opportunity to assist our service members and their families, and for being able to improve upon Virginia’s existing professional and occupation licensure process.”

In her remarks at the ceremony, 62nd District representative Coyner said, “I am blessed to live in a community (Chesterfield County) that has so many of our military families from Fort Lee living there. We are raising our children together.

“My passion for this particular piece of legislation really stemmed from the mothers in my circle who – when they moved here – said … as a military spouse, you lose a little bit of yourself in order to support our country. Just being able to work would give me a little bit of that back. That really stood out to me. Our ability to give a little bit back to our military spouses is so important. This particular piece of legislation shows that we are opening our arms to military families and saying we want you to choose us and come back to Virginia whenever you can.”

Implementing innovative ways to support military families is one of the reasons Virginia continually ranks as one of the best states for service members, veterans and their families, Hopkins pointed out.

Roth-Douquet said “military spouses were hobbled” before COVID-19, and research forecasts that unemployment and underemployment rates among that group could climb upward to 30 percent and 77 percent, respectively, as the state emerges from this public health and economic crisis.

“That’s why the expansion of Virginia’s expedited licensure policy is so key,” she said. “It removes a critical barrier to military spouses working in the fields of their training. We are grateful to Governor Northam and the Virginia legislature for taking action on this important issue.” 

According to the Department of Labor, more than 34 percent of all military spouses in the labor force require an occupational or professional license. The Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation and the Department of Health Professions administer the process of granting professional licenses for all professions regulated under Title 54.1 of the Code of Virginia.

Additional information about the licensure process for military personnel and their spouses is available at www.dpor.virginia.gov/Military_and_Veterans_Services. Another article of interest concerning the Army Emergency Relief Relicensing Aid Program can be found at www.army.mil/article/223131/aer_offers_2500_relicensing_aid_for_spouses.