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Threats to licensing remain a concern for CPAs amid pandemic

As state legislatures prepare to convene in January following an election year, the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic is posing new challenges to state professional licensing statutes that preserve CPAs’ status as protectors of the public interest.

Groups that have been lobbying for years against professional and occupational licensing can cite economic uncertainty related to the pandemic as a reason to relax professional standards for the purpose of opening up more job opportunities.

But professional licensing advocates note that at a time when fraud risk is heightened, the services and assurance provided by licensed professionals is even more important to protect the public. The AICPA will monitor state legislatures and respond if bills are introduced that jeopardize licensing laws.

Over a dozen states where licensing issues will be a top legislative priority are being watched closely, said Marta Zaniewski, the AICPA’s vice president–State Regulatory & Legislative Affairs.

Calling all CPAs

Zaniewski said CPAs have a role to play in protecting licensing laws.

“The best way for CPAs to become involved is educate the legislators in your state about what you all do,” she said. “What is the community you serve? How do you serve it? What are the assets and attributes you bring to your organizations, your companies, and your communities?”

Zaniewski said busy legislators may not be fully aware of the benefits of licensing and may need to be reminded of the public benefits that licensing regulations provide. The pandemic, meanwhile, may limit the length of legislative sessions and the open dialogue about the potential unintended consequences of deregulation.

That’s why CPAs and state CPA societies who make their voices heard can make a difference.

“If there is a way to educate and really provide concrete examples of how CPAs protect consumers in their day-to-day work, and the services they provide that should be provided via a license given the large responsibility, it can only help clear up some of that noise and help policymakers view CPAs as a profession and not an occupation,” Zaniewski said.

Strength in numbers

By standing together with leaders of like-minded professions in the Alliance for Responsible Professional Licensing (ARPL), the AICPA and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy have amplified their voices in their advocacy on licensing issues.

ARPL members include associations representing architects and engineers that also have established uniform education, examination, and experience standards for their professions. ARPL has worked to highlight best practices to help legislators understand licensing models.

“We’re there to inform and educate,” Zaniewski said. “And I think we’ve established ourselves in this space to be seen as a resource on future legislative bills. … We have a seat at the table to work with various stakeholders to say, ‘There are other models. This bill is not a silver bullet. You may cause unintended consequences.’ And I think we’re able to shine a light on models and best practices that are in place and are working well.”

Zaniewski said CPAs who wish to help with advocacy on this issue can work with the AICPA and ARPL to do so.

“No one knows their issues better than the people living in that state, and no one knows their legislators better than those people,” she said. “The CPAs who are in some of these hot states where they’ve seen legislation introduced, or they’re hearing that their governor would like to [diminish licensing], keep your ears to the ground and use any available opportunity to advocate for the profession and the public.”

— Ken Tysiac, editorial director, Journal of Accountancy