Changes to licensing proposed for half-million Georgians

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

— Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp has less than three weeks to push through a massive reform of the system that licenses and doles out discipline for nearly half a million Georgia professionals.

His sweeping proposal contained in Senate Bill 445 proposes to take authority from Georgia's 43 licensing boards and about 300 board members and to give it to his shrinking staff and a new board of seven people appointed by the governor. It is being met with skepticism by licensees from architects to nurses, some of whom serve on the boards, and by politicians who question whether it will work and how it would affect the Georgians who need a license to earn a living.

Kemp's goal is to cut waiting times for a license from a month to a week, but critics wonder how licensing investigations done by 300 knowledgeable board members will speed up or whether they will be done safely when dropped into the laps of seven people without the same range of expertise.

"If a barber gives you a bad haircut, it's a bad haircut. If a nurse messes up, it may kill you," said Barry Cranfill, a member of the state Board of Nursing, which issues the largest number of professional licenses, 111,149.

Kemp says his staff that works for boards is already doing much of the work and the new system will gain efficiency. He hopes to get the legislation -- a massive bill of more than 800 pages -- passed this year, so it would take effect in 2013. But it would have to pass at least one chamber by March 7 to have a chance this legislative session, and the bill faces opposition from members of some of the more powerful boards, who can sway tens of thousands of members. Questions over the need for a complete overhaul versus a tuneup of the process also may slow the bill.

Kemp shopped the idea to Gov. Nathan Deal, looking for support.

A spokeswoman for Deal said he would support a streamlined concept that is an efficient and effective process for licensure and renewals, but he also supports the policy expertise of the 43 boards and expects their continued input.

The bill will have its first hearing in a Senate committee Tuesday.