Making the most of regulatory reform

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This year the association news will feature articles related to the 2019–2021 Strategic Framework. Watch for the icon appearing next to the title in each issue.

Dale Atkinson’s Counsel’s Column makes the case for using the current emphasis on regulatory reform to educate the public, including legislators, consumers, and other constituents, about the positive role of state government to enforce professional regulation. But what should member boards be doing to “articulate the need for and benefits of government licensure”?

The first goal of the 2019–2021 Strategic Framework, “Advance knowledge and acceptance of social work as a licensed profession,” has education of legislative stakeholders as one of its objectives. Member boards have many opportunities to contribute to this outreach by countering efforts focused on deregulation and supporting efforts focused on greater consistency of regulation across jurisdictions.

graphic of green circle with lightbulb iconIn the last two months, two states have approached regulatory reform in opposite ways: West Virginia introduced bills to deregulate, while Arizona introduced a bill to expedite licensure for out-of-state licensees seeking residency. In both situations, opportunities existed for member boards to “educate legislative stakeholders to accept the importance of social work regulation to public protection.” If either scenario was played out in your jurisdiction, the questions facing your board might include: Is my board prepared to act? Does my board know its role? Does my board have its partners in place and do we know where resources are?

An educator who is also a former regulator alerted ASWB to West Virginia’s bills (HB/SB 2697) to provide “consumer choice” by allowing nonlicensed practitioners to provide services to consumers as long as the nonlicensed status was disclosed. The educator sent a letter to state legislators arguing against the bill. ASWB also responded, sending letters providing information about how the bills would adversely affect consumers of social work services. The West Virginia Board of Social Work and NASW-West Virginia continue to monitor the bills, which for now appear to have died in committee.

In Arizona, House Bill 2569 was introduced to allow licensees from other jurisdictions who were claiming residency in the state to be granted an equivalent license in Arizona, essentially through endorsement. The bill amends existing state law that expedites licensure for military spouses to include out-of-state licensees. The bill accepts the out-of-state applicant’s license provided the licensee has met minimum education, experience, and exam requirements to hold the current license(s); has held the current license(s) for a year; has undergone no disciplinary action in the state(s) where licensed; and has no disqualifying criminal history. Licensed applicants would also be required to pay applicable licensing fees and pass a jurisprudence exam if required by the Arizona regulatory board issuing the license. The bill passed in the House by a vote of 4-3.

“The Arizona bill reflects the Mobility Strategy Standards and the four essential criteria of the strategy adopted by delegates in 2017,” said Mary Jo Monahan. It also “checks the box” on the second goal of the 2019–2021 Strategic Framework: “Facilitate mobility by licensure through endorsement.” Could other member boards encourage legislators to work for similar legislation and thereby extend regulatory consistency, reduce unnecessary barriers to the workforce, and secure legislators’ acceptance of the importance of social work regulation for public protection?

ASWB does not propose to tell member boards what to do but to highlight ways that your association can support members’ efforts to educate, to develop partnerships for advocacy, to meet the challenges of regulatory reform, and to find solutions that advance the decisions ASWB members made in the 2017 and 2018 annual meetings.

“ASWB staff are always ready to meet with member boards to help strategize in the face of regulatory challenges,” said Jennifer Henkel, senior director of member services and strategic initiatives. Henkel’s department is emphasizing member engagement in this first year of the new strategic framework. Attending board meetings is high on the list of ways that staff are prepared to help. Cara Sanner, ASWB’s regulatory support coordinator, continues to respond to members’ research requests and track relevant legislative activities. She is currently tracking more than 150 bills, and she expects that number to grow in the next few months.

The upcoming 2019 Education Conference, “Preparing & Partnering for Regulation and Legislation: Rising Above the Waves,” will offer practical tools for working with legislators and help to improve or develop coalition-building skills. To get the most out of the upcoming conference, you will benefit from assessing in advance what types of support your board needs and where your board’s strengths lie. That way, you’ll come ready with questions for presenters.

Coalition-building will be the subject of one of the sessions followed by a networking session where members can connect on a number of regulatory topics to “sort out how to approach partnering to address these challenges,” said Janice Fitts, ASWB’s regulatory education and research senior manager and staff to the REAL Committee. “The intent of the partnership session is to help members determine who your strongest partners are, who might carry the torch for different issues, and where members might need to make changes.”

Members whose boards formed Mobility Readiness Teams as part of practice mobility efforts have a coalition in place ready to repurpose for regulatory efforts in support of this strategic goal. The MRTs were part of ASWB’s Mobility Task Force recommendations to help disseminate information quickly within a jurisdiction. Organized on the snowflake model, teams include representation from the local NASW chapter, who could perform advocacy and lobbying, and representation from a local school of social work, who could carry the message about accepting regulation to faculty and aspiring social workers.

As you engage with legislators and educate stakeholders about the need for regulation to protect the public, you are doing your part to achieve one of the objectives supporting the first goal of the 2019–2021 Strategic Framework. In this first year of the framework, members have the opportunity to, as Atkinson writes, “embrace the spotlight of regulatory reform as an opportunity to shine.”