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Officials back proposal to improve military spouse employment in Connecticut

Military spouses have an unemployment rate of 16% — four times the national average, according to an estimate from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

The issue is affecting retention in the military, as many service members decide to get out because the frequent relocations make it difficult for their spouses to find work.

That's caused concern among military leaders, who have urged governors across the country to remove barriers associated with military relocations.

"In other words, military installations could experience growth or reductions, even closures, based in part on how well the state promotes and expands economic opportunity for military spouses in licensed occupations," said Bob Ross, executive director of the state's Office of Military Affairs.

Ross was among those who testified in support of Gov. Ned Lamont's proposal to make changes to the state's professional licensing requirements, including speeding up the process for recognizing licenses awarded by other states, at a public hearing of the General Assembly's General Law Committee on Tuesday.

Under the proposal, new residents, including military spouses, would be able to apply for a license from the state Department of Consumer Protection or state Department of Public Health, which license occupations from veterinarians to vascular surgeons, provided they are licensed in another state and have practiced in good standing for at least one year.

Many labor unions in the state have voiced opposition to the measure, saying it raises too many safety concerns and would dilute the high-quality workforce of licensed professionals in state.

But advocates for military spouses see the proposal as an effort to make Connecticut a more attractive place for service members and their families to relocate.

"The Department of Defense is actively evaluating this and scoring states on their behavior and their performance in addressing this issue and I sadly have to tell you Connecticut has a very poor score on this relative to all the other states that host major military bases," Ross said.

Ross, in his testimony, cited a Department of Defense report released during the Obama administration that found 35% of military spouses in the labor force work in professions that require state licenses or certification.

"Military spouse occupational license reciprocity has long been an initiative of the Department of Defense, as it contributes to service members' quality of life and retention in the armed forces," Maj. Gen. Francis Evon, adjutant general of the Connecticut National Guard, said in his testimony in support of the proposal.

Evon said the changes also could help attract talent to the Guard from out of state and bring in additional resources.

Several years ago, Connecticut adopted a rule allowing military spouses of active-duty service members to apply for a temporary law license valid for up to three years without having to take the Connecticut bar exam.

Since that new rule went into effect in January 2018, the Connecticut Bar Examining Committee has received five applications from military spouses seeking to apply for this temporary license.

Of those, three have been admitted to practice law and two candidates have been recommended for admission but have not yet taken the oath, which is required in order to receive the temporary licensure, said Rhonda Stearley-Hebert, a spokeswoman for the Judicial Branch.

j.bergman@theday.com

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