House leadership sets up committee to look into licensing delays, prompting pushback from Raffensperger

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger discussed his office's proposed budget with lawmakers on Jan. 17, 2024. (Credit: Jill Jordan Sieder)

State lawmakers have launched an investigation into why businesses and individuals are having a hard time getting professional licenses in a timely manner. 

On Monday, the leaders of both legislative chambers established a joint blue-ribbon committee to look into licensing problems within the Secretary of State’s Professional Licensing Boards Division, prompting push back from Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who noted that the state is redirecting millions of dollars intended for the division to its general fund. 

“One of the most important duties of the Office of the Secretary of State is to ensure licenses and certifications are obtainable in a timely and efficient manner. It has become increasingly clear that the secretary of state is incapable of handling such duties,” Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who also is president of the Senate, said in a statement announcing the investigation. 

In a letter to Raffensperger, Jones and House Speaker Jon Burns said they’ve received numerous complaints from businesses about the difficulty in getting and renewing required licenses and certificates, which companies say has led to delays and disruptions. 

Jones and Burns added that their constituents are hindered by the online license application process. 

The panel, they said, will “examine ways in which we can improve our licensing processes. We must ensure that the government is not impeding Georgians from starting or expanding their businesses.” 

Raffensperger responded Tuesday that the professional licensing division generally brings in between $25 million and $30 million a year in fees from businesses and individuals seeking licenses but the state redirects a majority of those fees to its general fund.

“The reality is that small business owners are expecting the level of service that they are paying for, yet the majority of their fees are being redirected to the general fund,” Raffensperger said in a letter to Jones and Burns.

The state’s method of issuing licenses is outdated, Raffensperger added, noting he was disappointed that a couple of bills that would have addressed that problem failed to make it through the Legislature this year.

Raffensperger also said in his letter that the nearly $1.5 million allocated to the division in the fiscal year 2025 budget “ will go a long way towards getting this historically underfunded division to serviceable levels.” 

Meanwhile, the secretary of state’s office led an effort last year to improve barriers to licensing through the GA Works Licensing Commission, which included legislators and business leaders who after four meetings made recommendations that included putting more processes online and better funding the understaffed Professional Licensing Boards Division.

As previously reported by State Affairs, many occupational licenses in Georgia are issued by one of 43 licensing boards within the Professional Licensing Boards Division. 

They cover 197 license types, including for cosmetologists, nurses, social workers, foresters, architects and plumbers. Other professions are regulated by independent state boards, like doctors, engineers and realtors.

About 27% of professional license applications administered by the Professional Licensing Board Division take a year or more to process, according to Raffensperger. The rest can take up to six months. Some boards are relying on paper applications, mail service and manual processes to handle applications.

Have questions or comments? Contact Issac Morgan on X @issacmorgan12 or at [email protected] and Tammy Joyner on X @lvjoyner or at [email protected].