House accepts veterans’ skilled-trades bill

mlee@macon.comMarch 5, 2013 

ATLANTA -- The state House of Representatives says Georgia should look into letting some veterans earn qualifications in contracting, plumbing and other trades based on their military experience.

“We’re trying to streamline the process” to help veterans get into skilled trades more quickly where appropriate, said the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, just before the House approved it in a 167-2 vote Tuesday.

House Bill 188 applies to the entry-level state licenses for plumbers, electricians, utility and general contractors, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning technicians. It directs Georgia to figure out which military occupational specialties match which Georgia license requirements, then offer some passes where appropriate.

For example, Coomer said, some licenses require professional reference letters from Georgians in order to sit for a test. Local references are something the state might find it’s willing to waive or modify for someone just back from places like Iraq or Afghanistan, he suggested.

It also allows military spouses newly posted in Georgia who have licenses in other states to skip Georgia’s license test, if the qualification in their previous state is found to be equivalent.

House Bill 188 originated in Gov. Nathan Deal’s office and is part of his overall strategy of getting high-demand skilled trade jobs filled.

The bill “helps veterans enter into the work force quicker,” said Tricia Pridemore, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development.

The bill hit a few speed bumps during committee hearings, as some industry bodies objected to the fact that the military uses different machines, fuels and chemicals than civilian workers and that mishandling them is dangerous.

Several House members also showed skepticism on the House floor, asking if the bill might let unqualified people into management.

State Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, pointed out that qualified veterans can already work as employees in the House Bill 188 fields without a license.

“They can get jobs today if we don’t do anything here,” he said.

Those with a given military occupational specialty do not necessarily have the same skills as each other or as civilian technicians. And they don’t necessarily have a vast enough knowledge to run a civilian business, Setzler suggested.

“When I left the Army as a technical sergeant, I was not competent” to hold any license, he said.

But Pridemore shot down opponents’ objections.

“We need for them to engage and read the bill,” she said.

The work group for each profession that will decide on the military-to-civilian conversion will include people from the relevant state licensing board, the director of the Secretary of State’s Professional Licensing Boards Division and from Pridemore’s office. Her shop has the cash and expertise to do the research to match military specialty codes to Georgia professional standards.

“You have an industry expert sitting in on those conversations,” Pridemore said.

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce made the legislation a so-called scorecard bill, meaning a vote against it earns a legislator a demerit on its annual chamber evaluation.

The bill now moves to the state Senate. It needs Senate approval by the end of the annual legislative session, due in April.

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