MONTGOMERY — Legislation that would place many state occupational licensing boards under one state office will be tried again in the 2024 legislative session, according to State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine).

Elliott sponsored legislation in the 2023 session to create 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.

Elliott previously estimated there are somewhere between 63 to 151 occupational licensing boards and commissions in Alabama.

Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen told 1819 News when the bill was filed in the 2023 session, "Although I understand the purpose of the bill, I do not feel that the Secretary of State's office is the right vehicle for its implementation."

"I'm not running the same bill. What I'm going to do is basically divide boards into three different areas. Those that issue licenses that are departments of the state of Alabama. (The Alabama Department of) Insurance issues licenses. The Securities Commission, not the security guard folks that were here today, but the Securities Commission, financial securities, issues licenses. The Banking Department issues licenses to bankers. We're not talking about trying to consolidate them or to consolidate their administrative services. Then you're going to have the professional folks so you've got doctors, lawyers, optometrists, psychologists, you know, whatever. Those folks have much more complicated licensing requirements, much more complicated disciplinary actions, all of those things are much more complicated. We're going to put those off to the side," Elliott told 1819 News on Thursday.

"Then we're going to come back and look at what I would call probably more occupational licensing in nature and that's going to be more along the lines of locksmiths, security guard folks, cosmetologists, wrestling, no kidding," he added. "All of those different things. I think we can find significant cost savings just by combining them and then if you, frankly, lose the profit motivation that exists in the management of some of these other private boards I think you can see real cost savings. It's not going to save the state any money, but it will save the person getting the license (money). A lot of times the barrier to entry into the profession can be a license fee. You know, I want to be a locksmith, but gosh you know now I got to have this fee and this and that and another and by the time you check all of those boxes we make it hard to go practice a profession. I want to do as much as I can to make the cost of entry to getting into the workforce as cheap as possible." 

Members of the Contract Review Committee on Thursday approved contracts for fiscal year 2024 with Smith Warren Management Services totaling $1.44 million to manage boards overseeing electrical contractors, examiners in counseling, and security guards.

The committee also approved contracts with The Austin Group totaling $371,216 to manage boards overseeing assisted living administrators, marriage and family therapy examiners, and private investigators.

Keith Warren, executive director of Smith Warren Management Services, told 1819 News on Thursday fees are based on how many licensees are overseen by the board. 

"I don't think (Elliott) fully understands what a regulatory board does even though he's a license holder of two," Warren said. "There are a lot of things that are done, and mistakes are made, nobody is perfect. He is focusing on regulatory boards, and I'm not quite sure, you know, there's Open Meetings Act issues with the Medical Cannabis Commission right now. There are many issues, but why he's focusing on boards and so focused on that…he won't talk to me. I've tried several times to reach out to him and he's not interested in speaking to me and, so I don't know how we can continue to try to solve any of his issues or answer any of his questions if he's not willing to speak with us. 

He also said contracts to manage different boards vary in price based on a variety of factors.

"It's cost-involved. When we were leaving the meeting today actually several board members were like, 'Well, they need to know how many licensees that we have, how many complaints that we have to investigate, the administrative duties that are performed, additional requirements…all of the work that's having to go into all of the executive orders which were new this year that we're having to comply with on top of working with examiners and answering their questions to prepare for their audits.' It's a lot more than just sitting in an office answering the phone and helping somebody get a license," Warren said. "There's a lot like (the) Security Regulatory Board they have over 12,000 licensees. You see one board that's $520,000 and then one is going to be $300,000 and something… they're not all charged the same. It's based on how many licensees, how many complaints, how much investigative time, how much legal assistant time, and then how much finance and accounting is required for the board."

He continued, "We put a lot of work especially now with all the questions coming up and trying to separate all of those out into categories and how much time is spent and how much money is allocated to those expenses and those particular divisions of the office. If there's a large number of licensees, there's no need for a large license fee. It's based on administrative, investigative, financial costs as well and some boards give back through educational grants to provide education and continuing education opportunities to these licensees through other organizations and associations. There's a lot of moving parts to these boards and agencies if they so choose."

Elliott said consolidating the boards under one state department would "save some money."

"I think if you remove that kind of profit motivation I think inherently you're going to save some money," Elliott said. "Also, if you take these separate boards that may or may not be under private management but you take these separate boards that are siloed they've got their executive director, they've got their administrative assistant, they've got investigators or whatever else if you take that and you start streamlining that where they're doing other jobs for other board then you reduce the total amount of staff and you reduce the cost. If you look at Virginia, Florida, and Georgia that do it, they save a ton of money."

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