Military licensing reform may boost Westfield base prospects

Hampden County

BOSTON (SHNS) – With support for military families among the criteria the Department of Defense uses in base selection, the Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs is considering legislation that would streamline the professional licensure process for military spouses and support the education of children of service members.

Sen. John Velis, the co-chair of the committee and an active member of the Army Reserve, is among those legislators who have filed bills this session to encourage the swift processing of professional license applications for military spouses.

Velis said that delays in transferring professional licenses from one state to another can not only reduce a family’s ability to earn a second income, but also prompt spouses to abandon careers or service members to leave the military.

“We should be doing everything in our power to ease transitions for these families who are already sacrificing so much for us,” Velis said.

First Lady Jill Biden has been championing the portability of licenses for military spouses since the Obama administration, and the push to codify expedited license review also comes as Massachusetts is competing for selection by the Air Force of Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield as a base for the new generation of F35A Lightning II fighter jets.

Christopher Arnold, the northeast liaison from the Pentagon’s Defense-State Liaison Office, said passage of the legislation would “ensure that Massachusetts meets the department’s current criteria.”

Velis’s bill, and similar legislation filed by Sen. Walter Timilty and Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, would guarantee that military spouses have their license applications processed within 30 days.

The bill would also allow the children of military families to enroll in public school immediately upon a parent’s transfer to the state, and would let college-aged children attending a public university to continue to pay in-state tuition if their family gets transferred out of state.

The final piece of the legislation proposes to create a program under which schools that demonstrate the capability to provide the unique educational, social and emotional supports for children of military parents can be certified as “Purple Star” schools.

According to the National Governors Association, nine states have “Purple Star” school programs – Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, Ohio, Arkansas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Indiana.

Gov. Charlie Baker signed an executive order in February encouraging the Division of Professional Licensure to process military applications within 30 days, with a focus on physical therapists, accountants, engineers, psychologists, barbers and cosmetologists.

The administration has also taken steps to make it easier to transfer nursing and teaching licenses to Massachusetts, and directed the DPL to explore further opportunities to join interstate compacts that would improve the portability of professional licenses.

A report on the implementation of the executive order and recommendations for further improvements to the process was due from the division on July 1. An administration official told the News Service the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development was making final edits before releasing the report publicly.

Velis asked Arnold whether the legislation was necessary knowing that under Baker’s order most licensing boards are meeting the 30-day threshold.

“Certainly having that requirement on the books for 30 days is optimal,” Arnold said.

Timility, who chaired the Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee last session, said he consulted with Major General Gary Keefe, the adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard, in crafting his legislation (S 2924).

He called the bill “what Massachusetts must do” to remain a national leader in benefits provided to veterans and their families.

Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, said the bills before the committee were “a little more expansive” than the bill the committee considered last session when she co-chaired with Timilty.

“If the family members are not supported, our military force suffers tremendously,” Campbell said.

Amanda Tefft, president of the National Guard Association of Massachusetts, said the bill would also have a “profound impact on recruiting and retention.”

She said the National Guard recruits from the ranks of the active-duty members looking to continue their military service, and would be a more attractive future for military members if their spouse had career security as well.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that up to 34 percent of military spouses work in licensed professions, and 22 percent of spouses face unemployment.

Citing a 2019 Department of Defense survey, NCSL said that one in five military spouses who worked in a licensed profession wait 10 months or more to have their credential transferred.

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