State licensing bottleneck staying corked

mlee@macon.comMarch 7, 2013 

ATLANTA -- In each of the past three months, some 30,000 people have called the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, many trying to figure out where their professional licenses are, and hung up in frustration after being put on hold, said state Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming.

Much of the bottleneck is due to a new state law that the Legislature is not likely to amend much this year.

Instead, some professions are trying to peel away from the Secretary of State’s office.

The Georgia Secretary of State administers licensing for more than 40 professions, from accountants to wastewater treatment plant operators. According to a statement from the office, they are working on about 100,000 license renewals. The most common reason for delay is secure and verifiable proof of a person’s citizenship or legal residency that is either missing or incomplete.

That’s a requirement the Legislature set up in 2011. Every applicant must submit documents for an initial license or a renewal.

State Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, who is a dentist, carried House Bill 132 through the state House of Representatives on Thursday, a bill which would put the Georgia Board of Dentistry and the Georgia State Board of Pharmacy administratively under the Department of Community Health, removing them from the bottleneck at the Secretary of State’s Office.

State Rep. Nikki Randall, D-Macon, grilled Hawkins during floor debate, trying to figure out if his bill would cost jobs at the Secretary of State’s Professional Licensing Boards Division office in Macon.

“Do you think it’s possible to maintain that entire staff if that amount of money comes out of the budget?” she asked.

Hawkins said a lot of the budget is for travel reimbursement, and thus follows the board.

When she pressed more, he said, “I do not believe it would be negative to allow people to do a job more efficiently.”

But that did not satisfy some of Hawkins’ own party colleagues. Hamilton suggested that if the Secretary of State’s Office is overworked, farming out some of its work might not result in layoffs, thus paying staff elsewhere would be an extra cost.

Hawkins said the boards’ new homes had already swallowed some of the fixed costs, like computers, so it’s an overall savings.

“There’s been lots said about licensing boards, what direction is the state going to go in, and where should they be and what should the fees be,” said state Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Albany, as he carried House Resolution 549 in front of the House. The legislation will create a study committee over the summer to try and answer those questions.

But there’s no active legislation that would address anything about any license applicants getting relief from proving their legal status every time they renew a license.

To contact writer Maggie Lee, e-mail her at mlee@macon.com.

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