Members of Gov. Kay Ivey’s Study Group on Efficiency in State Government will consider next week whether to recommend creating a new state agency to house occupational licensing boards and commissions.

Ivey established the group by an executive order in January. A report and recommendations on the study group's findings are due by December 15. 

Alabama State Treasurer Young Boozer, the chair of the study group, said in a draft of the report that will be considered at a Wednesday meeting, “The Governor’s Study Group on Efficiency in State Government identified various ways to increase the accountability and efficiency of the State’s occupational licensing and regulatory boards.” 

“The Study Group determined that making changes to the organization of these boards should be a priority. The Study Group reviewed occupational licensing and regulatory boards by analyzing each board’s purpose, structure, funding, and budget, as well as sunset reports provided by the Examiners of Public Accounts. This review found numerous opportunities for increased efficiency and accountability. The Study Group spoke with individuals who have knowledge and experience in reforming state occupational licensing and regulatory board systems. This included a review of other states that have undertaken similar efforts in this area. Finally, the Study Group held a public hearing where it heard from interested parties and stakeholders,” Boozer said in the draft report. “It is recommended that a cabinet-level agency could be established with a director being appointed by the Governor to develop a plan to consolidate the administrative duties of occupational licensing and regulatory boards such as, but not limited to, accounting, personnel, legal, IT, investigative, and general board administration responsibilities. When determining which boards should be consolidated into this agency, factors to consider could include the board’s annual revenues, lack of accountable state employees, and current accountability and responsiveness to the public. Additionally, for any boards that are not initially consolidated into the agency, the Legislature’s Sunset Committee could be allowed to consider whether to consolidate additional boards into the agency when the board is up for its sunset review.”

The Governor's Study Group on Efficiency in State Government will meet on Wednesday morning in the State Capitol to consider whether to adopt the report and send it to Ivey.

The recommendation is similar to legislation brought in the previous session by State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine). Elliott-sponsored legislation would’ve created a new Occupational Licensing Boards Division within the Alabama Secretary of State's Office. The bill passed out of a Senate committee Elliott chaired but never came up for a vote in the Senate.

Keith Warren, executive director of Smith Warren Management Services, a company that handles administrative services for a variety of state licensing boards told 1819 News on Friday, “You have much larger issues when you have a conglomerate and put all boards under there. I do not think that it would be a positive move for the state of Alabama and the protection of the citizens of the state for  any professional regulation of licensing that we have.”

“In our daily operations of dealing with other boards that are umbrella agencies similar to what they want to create as stated in one of the committee meetings for Sen. Elliott’s bill, you know, you go six months and don’t even get a returned phone call. Can’t get anyone on the phone, delayed licensing. I recently attended a meeting where there was a representative from the state of Florida there and she was like, you know, they won’t even give us a budget to investigate complaints,” Warren said. “Whether it’s a standalone agency with state employees or whether it’s a contract agreement like ours, I don’t see it as a good idea for any.”

Elliott has previously estimated there are somewhere between 63 to 151 occupational licensing boards and commissions in Alabama. The boards and commissions currently all operate independently or semi-independently of each other. Legislators on the Sunset Committee examine the finances and actions of the boards regularly. Members of the Joint Interim Sunset Committee voted in September to recommend ending the current Alabama Board of Massage Therapy, one of the boards managed by Warren, at the end of fiscal year 2024. Warren has said he’s attempting to correct the board’s issues.

Elliott told 1819 News he thought the study group’s idea was great.

“My goal was to try to not create more government and house it under an existing entity that was already doing that kind of work,” Elliott said in an interview. “You’ve seen through all of this how much waste and duplication there is. Let’s look and see what they come out with, but good, you know, that means somebody is listening to me constantly pointing this stuff out. It’s a no-brainer. Florida, Virginia, Georgia…I mean, look around us. We’re the only ones doing this. Then when you see they’ve all got lawyers. They’ve all got lobbyists on top of the lawyers. The money that is squeezed out of the small business owners that are trying to just go to work is really a shame. The mismanagement…we have a fantastic Department of Examiners of Public Accounts who goes through and hits these issues over and over and over again. They’re being managed by firms that can’t figure out how to balance a checkbook. It’s absurd.” 

Laural Bunn, executive director of the Alabama Propane Gas Association, told 1819 News on Thursday, “It is refreshing to know that so many of our state leaders are enthusiastic about addressing the concerns and issues related to this very important topic. Since the legislative process is always moving, creating a Study Group to examine, review, and make recommendations is a positive step towards ensuring our government is guided by the principles of accountability, efficiency, and transparency to better serve all Alabamians.”

 “We hope the evaluation and assessment process will find the value the LP Gas Board provides and will determine that the Board's current administration, operations, and specialized personnel are necessary to ensure the safety of all Alabama's citizens and the propane industry. We believe they’ll find the LP Gas Board is operating by the same three principles they've outlined and that their operations meet the requirements identified so the Board can continue their specialized work in regulating the propane industry to ensure the safety of our members, the industry, and all Alabamians,” Bunn said. “As we have done with our federal officials, we are currently in the process of scheduling on-site visits for members of the Alabama Legislature with our propane dealer members across the state. We would like to encourage them to take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the propane industry so they can better represent the industry and their constituents in this important discussion.”

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