Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who attended the opening of Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ “Deregathon” effort to open professional licensure Thursday, urged the governor to also consider waiving some licensing requirements for migrants from Puerto Rico who arrive licensed on the island.
Smith’s recommendation, set out in House Bill 1413 which he introduced last year, would have Florida recognize Puerto Rican licenses for two years while workers sought to apply for Florida state licenses, or seek to meet any additional requirements Florida has for licensure.
Smith, of Orlando, and Democratic state Rep. John Cortes of Kissimmee met with journalists after DeSantis and others opened the day-long workshop and said that if the governor wants to increase employment in various licensed professions in Florida the licensing boards should start by considering the longterm status of thousands of Puerto Ricans who have come to Florida in the past several years. Some came as evacuees after the devastating 2017 Hurricane Maria. Others have come seeking a new start in a stronger marketplace as Puerto Rico’s economy withers.
“These certification boards should immediately recognize the licensure of professionals moving from the islands to Florida so that we can immediately get Puerto Rican evacuees placed in their professions,” Smith said.
The Deregulation event is taking place at Valencia College’s East Campus, which is in Smith’s House District 49.
In late 2017 then-Gov. Rick Scott allowed for some of those Puerto Rican professional licenses for evacuees, but only on a temporary basis, which he did through executive orders that have expired. Cortes, a Democrat, credited former Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes [no relation] for helping make that happen.
Smith argued that many of those evacuees are staying, and many are ready and able to fill jobs and provide services the Florida economy needs, but need Florida licenses now.
“We wanted to extend the temporary endorsement to be something more ongoing, because the reality is even though the pace of evacuees to the states has slowed, the number of people who continue coming to the states from Puerto Rico because of the economic crisis, because of the diaspora, because of the problems were exacerbated by Hurricane Maria continues.
“So giving them an easier avenue, not to lower the standards for certification, but to at least temporarily recognized their certificate from the island, if they’re a barber, if they’re a classroom teacher, if they’re a social worker, if they’re a mental health expert, they could immediately get placed in their profession. And they would have a couple of years to to get their Florida certification afterwards,” he said. “The red tape, the bureaucracy has gotten in the way of their getting to work in their profession as soon as they arrive.
“The reality is the standard for many of these licenses is actually higher on the island than it is in the state of Florida,” Smith said. “So we aren’t in any way compromising education, experience, quality, any of that. But giving them time to get their endorsement, getting it together.”