father gov. Josh Shapiro targets state license and permit bottlenecks in latest executive order

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro is targeting the state’s licensing and permitting process with a new executive order.

Flanked by heads of state and business owners, Shapiro signed the order at a Capitol ceremony on Tuesday, giving state agencies the next three months to review all the licensing and permitting processes they oversee from top to bottom. The aim is to provide fixed decision deadlines for all applicants at the end.

Shapiro said he’s heard from nurses, teachers and beauticians who have recently faced licensing delays that have forced them out of work.

“To too many Pennsylvanians when they hear it [from state government] often feels haphazard and uncertain and takes far too much time. Sometimes they don’t hear anything back at all,” he said.

Although more than 130 types of professionals need a state license to work in Pennsylvania, some have complained that the process to get one is extremely slow at times. WITF and NPR reported last year that around 6,000 nurses applying for a license in 2021 had to wait three months or more — one of the highest waits in the country.

Delays like this cost Elizabeth Strong, owner of the Allentown salon, almost her livelihood. She said she recently faced weeks of unexpected delays when trying to renew her cosmetics license. Although she mailed several checks for the fees she owed, she said they were never cashed. The traffic jam was only cleared when her state representative intervened.

“I was pretty upset,” Strong said at Tuesday’s signing. “Imagine: my career is at stake here. So I didn’t know what to do.”

“There are lives at stake here and we’re kind of at the mercy of our state licensing,” she added.

Over the next three months, agencies must submit a recommended application decision deadline based on factors such as the number of applications they receive and the number of staff they need to help process.

If the Agency fails to meet this deadline after this deadline, it must refund that person’s registration fee. Shapiro called it a “money-back guarantee.”

It’s not clear if more workers are needed to help with processing, although Shapiro said agencies will find out during the upcoming review.

Acting Secretary of State Al Schmidt said the State Department, which oversees state licensing agencies, processes about 80,000 new license applications and about 375,000 renewal licenses each year.

“The first step in doing this is determining what is a reasonable amount of time to process licenses and certifications and other things,” Schmidt said. “Not to rush them, but to determine the appropriate timing without sacrificing the integrity of the process.”

Schmidt described the move at Tuesday’s signing as a “government accountability measure,” not a measure designed to speed up any licensing process. Many licensing and permitting requirements are set by state law, and Shapiro acknowledged he can’t change them with the stroke of a pen.

“What we’re saying is … we’re going to have reassurance for the public,” Shapiro said. “If we say it’s going to be 90 days, it’s 90 days, and if we get to day 91 and haven’t given you an answer, we’ll give you your money back.”

The governor’s office said new processing deadlines will eventually be posted on state websites.