March 13, 2020 12:47PM

Recognizing Out‐​of‐​State Licenses: For the Emergency, For Afterward

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced yesterday that under emergency powers related to the coronavirus epidemic, his state’s nursing board “put in place an emergency procedure that will make it possible for licensed out‐​of‐​state medical professionals and nurses to get licensed here in Massachusetts in one day.”

That’s a good idea, which should help get medical professionals to where they are most needed, and it is one of many good ideas that should be kept on as policy after the pandemic emergency passes. After Superstorm Sandy in 2012, by contrast, when storm‐​ravaged oceanside homeowners badly needed skilled labor to restore their premises to usable condition, local laws in places like Long Island forbade them to bring in skilled electricians even from other counties of New York, let along other states. As I wrote in this space then:

In a sane world, if occupational licensure existed at all, it would be automatically relaxed at a time of extremity like this, with lives as well as gigantic economic damage at risk….

It’s at a time of disaster that the irrationality of so many market‐​blocking rules, licensure among them, becomes most obvious.

Cato’s work on occupational licensure in medical and other fields goes back many decades and continues to the present. There is strong evidence that licensing burdens in many areas could be scaled back or eliminated entirely at no cost in consumer welfare (and often a gain), and that interstate barriers to recognition of licenses held in good standing elsewhere impose particularly high costs to little benefit.

Meanwhile, as part of a group of emergency measures in Maryland yesterday, Gov. Larry Hogan issued an executive order providing that all renewals of expiring licenses, permits, registrations and the like — including driver’s, business, and other licenses, not only occupational — would be extended to until 30 days after the state of emergency ends, whenever that is. The step will protect state employees and other users of public buildings from unnecessary contacts, as well as sparing many members of the public the fear that they will need to break isolation and social distancing in order to keep their licenses current.

Other states should follow on both measures.