Legislative Building in Raleigh, where the state budget is crafted
Legislative Building in Raleigh, Image courtesy of State Government Relations, UNC

By Rose Hoban

Spurred by the difficulty military spouses face getting and keeping jobs, lawmakers want to make it easier for at least one kind of health professional to get licensed in North Carolina: physical therapists.

For some health professionals, such as nurses, transferring a license from one state to another is simple because states participate in an interstate compact, explained Rep. John Szoka (R-Fayetteville) to members of the House Health Committee on Wednesday morning.

“You have a military family in Ft. Hood, Texas, for example. Say the husband is in the Army and the spouse is a licensed nurse and they have orders to come to North Carolina. When they come here, because of the nursing compact, the spouse can still practice nursing,” he said, by way of introducing House Bill 88, which would allow for North Carolina to participate in such an interstate compact.

“That obviously helps people get jobs right from the get-go. It’s obviously very military friendly.”

In the past, physical therapists have not had such an agreement. But national leaders in the profession are in the process of creating one and the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy is currently recruiting states to get on board.

“The first 10 states to pass this bill get a seat on the compact council to help run the thing,” Szoka said.

Four states have already signed on and in another four states a similar bill has passed one chamber or is waiting a governor’s signature. And similar legislation has been introduced in four additional states.

“There’s a time element to this bill,” Szoka said.

Alex Miller, who served in the Army before becoming a lobbyist for the state physical therapists’ association, said the legislation would also make it easier for people to work across state lines.

“Say you live in Rock Hill (South Carolina) and you work in the Charlotte market,” it would make it possible for a physical therapist to only need licensure in one state, rather than the two licenses required currently.

“Your license goes off of where your home address is,” Miller said.

He pointed out the Department of Defense has made this legislation one of its key issues for state governments this year.

photo shows Jeans sitting with his dog Angel A on his lap in a wheelchair
Gordon Jeans and other veterans were at the House Health Committee Wednesday in support of making it easier for physical therapists to attain licensure across state lines. Photo credit: Rose Hoban

Licensing boards in North Carolina are self-supporting, said Miller. The nursing board pays an annual fee of about $6,000 to the interstate compact organization for nurses, he explained. If the physical therapists had a similar arrangement, any such fee would be covered by licensure fees levied on the therapists themselves.

“No cost to the state,” he said.

Army veteran Gordon Jeans was in the back of the room during the hearing, with his service dog Angel A on his lap. After more than a decade as a tank operator, Jeans was injured in the early 1990s. Now he uses a wheelchair.

“If my wife had had any of those certifications it would have been completely unfair because it’s not her moving for job purposes, she’s stuck with me and I’m at the convenience of the government,” Jeans said. “It’s nice to know that they’re going to start giving the spouses the same credit.”

“They’re gonna be at Duke, at UNC, at any clinic from here to the coast,” he said. “It seems to me the easier you make it for someone to do something they’re good at… the better off the state’s gonna be.”

Lawmakers seemed to agree and passed the bill unanimously. Now it needs to pass the House Finance Committee before being voted on by the full House.

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Rose Hoban is the founder and editor of NC Health News, as well as being the state government reporter. Hoban has been a registered nurse since 1992, but transitioned to journalism after earning degrees...