In Defense of Occupational Licensing, Policy Trends and other highlights from FARB 2023

FARB’s 2023 Forum on Professional Regulation explored important regulatory topics like the future of regulation, how to mitigate illegal licensing activity, and technology’s impact on reporting of complaints.

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At the end of January, more than 175 attendees from state regulatory agencies and national association leaders gathered for the Federation of Associations of Regulatory Boards (FARB) 2023 Forum on Professional Regulation, held this year in Nashville, TN. FARB’s mission is to “promote public protection and provide a forum for information exchange for associations of regulatory boards and their affiliate stakeholders.” Attendees included regulatory leaders from agencies spanning various sectors from health care to finance, as well as testing officials, lawyers specializing in regulation, and technology companies. All who were there had a genuine interest in learning from their peers’ experiences and gaining knowledge on topical issues in regulation. Here, we’re sharing our roundup of this year’s forum in case you missed out. 

Amongst the many issues covered at the January conference, a big theme was the future of regulation and how policy trends in the legislature will impact them. There were also interesting discussions around exam breaches and security, social media management, free speech challenges to licensing and what’s on the horizon for FARB. 

Defending occupational licensing 

To start the first full day of the conference, administrative and regulatory attorney, Jeff Gray, spoke in the defense of occupational licensing. Mr. Gray addressed the importance of associations crafting a message as to why occupational licenses are important to the licensees and to the consumers. There are many myths that are spread by various political groups, such as that regulatory associations are essentially trade guilds or unions. The perspective Gray shared is that much of the anti-regulation rhetoric is built upon ‘econometric studies’ that we should all be wary of. There are real threats that if rhetoric such as this is allowed to build it will influence case law as Gray sited in a number of instances. 

Ultimately the message we need to build upon is that licensing and regulation saves businesses time and money. Gray shared a few examples why: businesses don’t need to spend as much time researching the professionals they bring onboard and when issues arise, they don’t get caught up in as many legal cases as they would with an unregulated professional. Lastly, with a regulated professional, there is an ‘incentive to do right’.

Security in licensing and testing

Regulators discussed the ongoing issue of technology security and the impact that has had not only on testing but also the forging of licenses. One board quoted that they had reported over 8,000 forged licenses in the last year. The increasing ability of hackers to breach security and gain access to testing is of concern when it comes to the safety of the public.   

Another threat to public safety is the timeliness of complaint reporting. When states aren’t made aware of licensee incidents in a timely manner that can jeopardize populations when the licensee crosses state lines.   

Legislative and policy trends to watch for in 2023

One major policy trend that was identified was the ‘one size fits all’ approach to regulation and reducing the differences between professions. The legislative changes we are seeing are in fact making it much harder to be an effective board as they have less flexibility. 

Reciprocity is another trend as states work to provide greater mobility. In the case of Indiana House Bill 1234, which included a reciprocity path for regulated professions, there is a mandate that the professional reside in-state to be licensed. We are also seeing more and more cases that challenge boards’ authority, such as with Louisiana House Bill 1062. 

The message to associations is to firstly assess your position, and secondly, respond using the principles of draft; strike; revise; establish and shift. 

Social media and technology’s impact on complaints, investigations and exam breaches

A prominent theme at the event was the impact that social media has had on the reporting and handling of complaints as well as the spread of misinformation. It is a difficult issue to address as social media can spread information about possible issues, but it can also spread misinformation and cause public outrage when misinformation is given and spreads quickly on social media.  

While professional regulators aim to streamline the complaints process, it remains a challenge that there is often no integration between their board’s system and the national association’s system. Many associations are relying on the states to manually input their complaints into the national database. Challenges such as lack of time and staff often cause this task to be put off and this can allow complaints to go unaddressed – at threat if a licensee decides to move interstate. 

In a panel session titled “’Inconceivable Cases – Really Stranger Than Fiction!” regulators shared their many experiences of complaint incidents. Most notable were the larger issues that some associations face, such as organized crime and human trafficking. Cases like this unfortunately can occur more easily when malicious technology allows people to forge licenses and cheat on tests in order to gain licensure.  

Regulators continue to grapple with how technology has changed the work environment

The last few years has led to an ever increasing need to be able to access all things remotely. This is an ongoing issue agencies are trying to keep up with and one which Thentia is able to support. Licensees want to be able to renew their license quickly and online, from wherever they are. We expect this topic will be discussed further at the 2023 FARB Innovation in Regulation Conference in July where you can expect to see Thentia as a sponsor once again. 

Overall, FARB’s 2023 conference was insightful for associations and state boards to come together to learn about the challenges and issues their peers are facing and to gather best practices on how to handle them. We hope to see you there next year! 

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