(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Members Andrew Zwicker, Yvonne Lopez and Raj Mukherji on Monday aimed at recognizing the professional licenses of displaced Puerto Rican doctors, nurses, teachers and other professionals who relocated to New Jersey following Hurricane Maria was advanced by the General Assembly by a vote of 72-0-0 and now awaits further action in the Senate.
“Prior to Hurricane Maria six months ago, New Jersey had one of the highest populations of Puerto Ricans on the mainland. Following the hurricane, we've seen more of our fellow Americans from the island seek safety with family and friends here,” said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon/Mercer/Middlesex/Somerset). “As they settle into their new lives in New Jersey, we can and should ensure that men and women from Puerto Rico are treated just as professionals moving here from any state would be, so they're able to continue in their professions and support their families here.”
The bill (A-1531) would revise state law regarding the reciprocity process for out-of-state professional and occupational licensing. Currently, licensed professionals from jurisdictions with standards that are substantially equivalent to New Jersey’s may work in their respective industries in New Jersey provided they supply the state with proof that an out-of-state license is valid, current and in good standing.
The legislation would clarify that the law applies not only to residents of the 50 states but also to individuals with licenses from Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia or any other territory or possession of the United States.
Under the bill, verification of licensure must be submitted to the appropriate state licensing board within six months or, in the cases of individuals relocating due to a natural disaster or other catastrophic event, as soon as practicable.
“After losing so much due to Hurricane Maria, people who are qualified to perform a job – and who may have been thriving doing that job in Puerto Rico – shouldn’t have to go through the additional stress of repeating coursework and training here in New Jersey,” said Lopez (D-Middlesex). “Any American citizen who comes from Puerto Rico and can prove that he or she already did what’s required to earn a license to work in New Jersey should be eligible to work in his or her field and make positive contributions to our state’s economy.”
“These are highly trained professionals whose documents may have been lost or damaged in the storm or who may not have the funds to undergo retraining and apply for licenses they already earned in Puerto Rico,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “The tragedy of Hurricane Maria already took so much from these Americans, and we should remove hurdles to securing new employment and facilitate their seamless transition to the next chapter of their lives.”
The bill was initially advanced by the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee on May 7.