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The Wisconsin Assembly passed a package of bills Wednesday designed to help improve the system of issuing professional licenses to everyone from tattoo artists to doctors and nurses that has been plagued with delays since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Republicans who control the Legislature have blamed the delays on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ administration. Evers is seeking more employees to help speed up license processing, a request that the GOP-led state budget committee is expected to vote on this Thursday.
All of the bills passed Wednesday with Republicans united in support. Democrats were divided over the measures. They were united in opposition to four of the bills. Two of the proposals got one Democratic vote and one got 21.
One measure would double the length of time licenses would remain in effect from two years to four years, a change backed by Wisconsin hospitals, nurses and other health care providers.
The state Department of Safety and Professional Services, which processes license applications, objects to doubling the length of a licensing, telling lawmakers in submitted testimony in May that it could lead to “abuse that would threaten public safety.”
In particular, the department’s lobbyist Mike Tierney warned, license holders who have serious issues could continue to work for years before arrests or convictions were revealed.
But the Wisconsin Hospitals Association, one of several health care organizations that supports the change, told lawmakers that it would ease the renewal burden on license holders, give the state more flexibility and reduce workload by allowing it to stagger renewal dates.
Other bills that were passed would allow those seeking a business license, such as accountants, to work immediately in Wisconsin if they have a license in good standing from another state. A 2021 law allowed for health care professionals from another state to begin working in Wisconsin while their Wisconsin applications were pending.
Another proposal would require the licensing department to update the processing time on its website monthly and post information about whether other states’ credentials for health care professions would qualify a person to obtain a reciprocal health care credential in Wisconsin.
Other measures would require the department to provide more processing data to the Legislature and another would streamline the required review of an applicant’s criminal history, with the goal of speeding up the process.
The bills now head to the Senate, which Republicans also control. Evers would have to sign them into law before they could take effect.
Leaders at the state Department of Safety and Professional Services have said applications are being processed about twice as quickly now as they were in 2021, when wait times were as long as 80 days.