Our active-duty military service members serve and defend the nation, and we honor them for their sacrifice. But spouses of our service members also play a huge role in the mission. They must be resilient, adaptable to change, patient and gracious as they serve alongside their partner in the often-unpredictable lifestyle demanded of those who serve our nation. They support their partners, raise families in an ever-changing environment and are asked to transfer their profession across state lines. My gratitude to those who serve and protect our nation is limitless—and this gratitude extends to their families and partners.
It is also important to me to ensure the transitional lifestyle of thousands of service members and their families is as seamless and welcoming as possible here in Alaska. Military spouses bring valuable skills, education and experience to the community in a variety of professions. Each state government has different rules and standards for occupational licensing, and Alaska strives to make it easier for the spouses of active duty service members as well as those retiring out of service.
But in the fall of 2017, the U.S. Department of Defense and local business leaders contacted my office about the difficulties military spouses were facing in obtaining occupational licenses. Since 2011, Alaska allows military spouses to receive courtesy expedited occupational licenses while they fulfill Alaska state requirements. It was troubling to me that we had only learned seven years later that more clarity is needed on how military spouses could get their Alaska occupational licenses in a timely manner.
Last year, I introduced House Bill 262, which would help the Legislature and the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development identify how the state can help improve the current process. My bill passed the House unanimously and stalled in the Senate. Now, as a state senator, I’ve reintroduced this bill as Senate Bill 11. This bill will improve oversight of the current occupational licensing system by requiring the department to submit an annual report to ensure military spouses have the ability to put their skills and experience to work in Alaska. In fact, introducing the bill in the first place improved communication between the department, occupational boards, the Legislature, U.S. Department of Defense, local governments and military families. Passing this bill now will ensure that communication and accountability continue for future generations. On Thursday, March 7, the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee will hear an overview of occupational licensing procedures before giving SB 11 its first hearing this year. I am grateful to committee chairwoman Sen. Lora Reinbold for this opportunity.
Moving to a new state and obtaining a new occupational license can be a daunting and stressful process for military spouses and their families. A simple reporting mechanism helps the Legislature identify where these challenges may lie and how we can best correct them. State officials have a duty to help ease the transition for those families coming to Alaska who serve our nation, and this is one way we can do that.
It is my hope that by facilitating communication between occupational boards, the state government and the greater military community, Senate Bill 11 will help military spouses put their skills to work in Alaska. However, there is still much work to be done. As the senator for the city of Fairbanks, Fort Wainwright and Badger Road, I will closely watch other ways in which we can help our service members and their families feel welcome with these commonsense pro-military and pro-economy measures.
If you, your spouse, family member or friend experienced any difficulty receiving an occupational license in Alaska, please feel free to call my office at (907) 456-7423. I am honored to help serve those who serve our nation.
Sen. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, represents District A in the Alaska Senate. He formerly represented House District 1 in the Alaska House.
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