Lessons learned regarding Illinois Senate Bill 1632
Earlier this year, the Illinois legislature passed Senate Bill 1632, a bill removing the exam requirement for social workers applying for the LSW license, which is reserved for BSW and MSW practice, with BSWs requiring supervised experience before becoming licensed. The new law takes effect January 1, 2022.
I'm probably the least political person I know, but I do love my profession.
The Illinois chapter of the National Association of Social Workers initiated the legislation, it stated, “to protect licensure for BSWs and remove an unnecessary burden to access.” According to NASW-IL, the only options for Illinois to comply with ASWB exam procedures were to create a separate bachelors license and scope for bachelors practice for which BSW graduates would have to take the Bachelors exam, or to eliminate licensure for BSWs. The chapter opposed both options. This background is important because it demonstrates the influence NASW-IL has with state legislature.
Opposition to the bill
ASWB emailed the bill sponsors, chairs of the Rule-Making and Health Care Licenses committees, Senate leadership, and the governor with a letter of opposition and entered written testimony at the Health Care Licenses hearing. Phil Koehl testified in opposition to the bill representing himself.
SB1632 passed in the House 117:0, with no discussion despite strong efforts from ASWB, Koehl, and another 22 social workers who submitted witness slips identifying themselves as opponents to the bill.
“As an elder statesperson in the Illinois social work community,” Koehl says, “I feel like I have extra responsibility. I don’t take that lightly. Plus, I was hoping to speak for all the other social workers who shared my opinion but weren’t able or willing to testify.” He offers the following lessons for member boards that may face similar legislation.
Lesson 1: Be politically aware
Koehl says that he learned about the bill late in the process, after it had passed in the Senate and been sent to the House Health Care Licenses Committee—the last stop before it was presented for a vote. Koehl is not a member of NASW-IL, and therefore did not receive any communication about the bill from the chapter. A lobbyist with Koehl’s professional association, the Illinois Association of School Social Workers, alerted him and encouraged him to testify. “I had never done that before,” Koehl says. “I’m one of the least political people I know. The lobbyist walked me through it.” It was at that point, Koehl says, that he reached out to ASWB for information and talking points to help him develop his testimony.
Lesson 2: Start talking about mobility
“One of the things ASWB helped me with: I hadn’t thought about mobility,” he says. “It’s such an important piece. I’ve had colleagues contact me about mobility.” According to Koehl, Illinois social workers are not allowed to do electronic practice across borders, so that argument didn’t resonate. But, he said, “LSWs who haven’t taken the licensing exam can’t practice in states where the exam is required. We have to start talking about mobility.”
Lesson 3: Defend the profession
“I love my profession,” Koehl says. “I’m passionate about it. If I can do something to improve it, that’s a plus. It bothers me that people are practicing outside their competency.” Despite “a horrible experience” testifying, Koehl believes that it’s important to defend the profession. “I spent hours writing my testimony,” he says. “I’m really proud of it.”
Lesson 4: Speak up—even when it’s not heard
Koehl approached writing his testimony with the belief that committee members would listen and agree to change the vote. In hindsight, he acknowledges that he had a sense the deal was already done. He describes his experience testifying as if he were “a musician at a restaurant where everyone keeps eating while I’m playing.” In the end, however, he says he would testify again.
Lesson 5: Use ASWB as a resource
“The most valuable experience I’ve had was attending ASWB training,” says Koehl. “There were other states and provinces there. That training let me know who ASWB was and offered a broader perspective to regulation beyond my state.” Additionally, he relied on ASWB for help developing his testimony and for responding directly to legislators.
Jennifer Henkel, senior director of member engagement and regulatory services, concurs. “ASWB staff want to partner with our members to assist with legislative advocacy. We can support members through research into laws and regulations and by keeping abreast of legislative actions through StateNet. We welcome requests for assistance.”
Could this happen in other jurisdictions?
Koehl believes that this type of legislation could happen in other jurisdictions. “It’s sad the legislation had to happen,” he says. “I think there are other ways to address the problems facing the Illinois social work profession.”
He also has concern that the Clinical license might be next for similar legislative action to remove the exam requirement.
His advice to member board members: “If you care about the profession, you need to be politically aware. Stay current about legislation.”