Dot Reid gives Gov. Glenn Youngkin a haircut at her Richmond barber shop after a bill-signing ceremony on occupational licensing reform. (Graham Moomaw/Virginia Mercury)
Dot Reid’s barber shop used to have 20 employees and two floors of space in Richmond’s Fan District. Coming out of a pandemic when many people treated haircuts as optional or more of a do-it-yourself thing, she’s down to five employees on one floor.
As she cut a customer’s hair Friday morning, Reid explained the trouble she’s had in recruiting new barbers and hairstylists as she tries to rebuild her business. She had a qualified job candidate with over a decade of experience, she said, but because he would’ve been coming from Maryland, it would’ve taken a while for him to get licensed to cut hair in Virginia.
“That was a huge challenge for me to actually have qualified candidates right there in front of me,” Reid said. “But then I knew we had to deal with the regulation challenges.”
Reid’s customer, Gov. Glenn Youngkin, chimed in to say it’s harder for people to move to Virginia if they know they can’t work and make money immediately.
“The income that you had where you were coming from generally stops,” Youngkin said as he sat in Reid’s chair at Refuge for Men. “And if there’s a long gap before you can start working again, you can’t move.”
A few minutes before the haircut, Youngkin signed universal occupational licensing legislation that will make Virginia recognize many professional licenses issued by other states, a shift supporters say will remove regulatory red tape that can be an obstacle for out-of-state workers trying to get started in a new place.
The bill passed the General Assembly with unanimous support and is the first major piece of 2023 legislation Youngkin has spotlighted with a formal bill-signing ceremony.
State officials project the streamlined process could lead to as many as 500 additional people per year applying for licenses from the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation, which oversees dozens of professions including barbers, interior designers, auctioneers, body piercers, home improvement contractors, tattooists and professional wrestlers.
“What this means is that in 85 different occupations, if you have a license in another state and you’re coming to Virginia — making sure that of course you’re up-to-date and don’t have any problems where you’re coming from and making sure you understand the laws of Virginia — you can go to work right away,” Youngkin said. “This is my first official signing because this bill will change lives.”
The bill doesn’t apply to more strictly overseen “professional services” jobs like accountants, architects, lawyers, doctors and engineers.
The new law requires applicants to have had an equivalent license, certification or work experience in another state for at least three years. It also allows Virginia regulatory boards to require newly arrived applicants to pass an exam on Virginia-specific laws and regulations in their field. Virginia regulators would not automatically grant licenses to anyone facing major disciplinary action in another state or applicants with unresolved investigations or complaints about their work elsewhere.
“We put some common-sense provisions [in] to make sure that people are not coming from other states that have issues with their licensure,” said Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, who sponsored the bill in the state Senate. “We have protections for Virginians.”
Del. Will Morefield, R-Tazewell, the bill’s sponsor in the House of Delegates, called the legislation part of an effort to “bring common sense back to government.”
“Often the more sense something makes, the more complicated the government can often make it,” Morefield said as he and other statehouse notables gathered by a neon-green octopus mural and star-spangled barber chair to watch the governor sign the bill.
In addition to giving Youngkin a haircut, Reid, the owner of Refuge for Men, presented the governor with a straight razor as a gesture of appreciation.
“Thanks for coming to my shop,” Reid told the crowd. “I’ve never done anything like this before.”
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