Don’t Take Away Our Licenses! Two state associations help kill legislation that threatened licensure for audiologists and SLPs. Grassroots 101
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Grassroots 101  |   June 01, 2017
Don’t Take Away Our Licenses!
Author Notes
  • Carol Polovoy is managing editor of The ASHA Leader. cpolovoy@asha.org
    Carol Polovoy is managing editor of The ASHA Leader. cpolovoy@asha.org×
Article Information
Professional Issues & Training / Regulatory, Legislative & Advocacy / Grassroots 101
Grassroots 101   |   June 01, 2017
Don’t Take Away Our Licenses!
The ASHA Leader, June 2017, Vol. 22, 28-29. doi:10.1044/leader.GR.22062017.28
The ASHA Leader, June 2017, Vol. 22, 28-29. doi:10.1044/leader.GR.22062017.28
In the past few months, Iowa and Texas have both seen legislation introduced that would have relaxed licensing requirements for audiologists and speech-language pathologists—and endangered their scope of practice. In both cases, state association leaders learned that careful legislative monitoring and immediate calls to action through social media are key to forestalling such serious threats.
Iowa
In Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad claims that a third of the state’s workforce—the highest level in the nation—is required to have licenses, a figure taken from a 2015 White House Report. In his view, the requirements are too stringent. So in February he drafted a bill to substitute an ambiguous “registration” to replace licensure for audiologists, speech-language pathologists and six other professions, including social workers and dieticians, and to end all licensure for five occupations, including hearing aid specialists.
“It was stunning to see audiology and speech-language pathology written into this bill,” recalls Megan Farrell, president of the Iowa Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ISHA), when ISHA’s management company alerted the board to the bill. “It utterly surprised us.”
The infrastructure for immediate response was already in place, Farrell says, because of recent advocacy efforts related to copayment equity and music therapy encroachment issues in the state.Within hours, ISHA posted a call to action on its Facebook page and sent a message to its email list subscribers. The messages—which included links to legislators’ contact information—urged members to call their representatives and the members of the health subcommittee and to attend legislators’ weekend forums and coffees to oppose the bill.

The subcommittee chair tore the cover sheet from the 82-page bill into pieces.

As a result of ISHA’s advocacy, and that of other professional organizations whose members were at risk, the subcommittee chair received more than 3,600 emails opposing the bill. By the time the subcommittee convened to discuss the bill a few days later, it was clear the bill was going nowhere, Farrell said. In fact, the subcommittee chair tore the cover sheet from the 82-page bill into pieces.
The fight isn’t over, however, as the licensure issue is scheduled to be examined in detail later this year. ISHA will track the progress of that study.
ISHA’s broader advocacy goal, however, is to demystify audiology and speech-language pathology for legislators and other policy-makers. An ASHA grant helped the association expand its 2017 advocacy day on March 8, less than two weeks after the licensure bill events.
“It was a fantastic day of advocacy that we couldn’t have planned at a better time!” Farrell said. “We had almost 100 university students and professionals participate. We went to the Capitol to provide education on who we are, where we work, and who we serve. We shared personal stories and will carry this effort through for Better Hearing and Speech Month in May.”
ISHA leaders and lobbyists also cultivate relationships with state legislative leaders in advance of the legislative session. “We want to be the professionals that representatives call on for advice on any issue related to speech-language and hearing,” Farrell said.
Texas
In early February, a daily monitoring on Texas legislation caught the eye of Larry Higdon, the director of government affairs for the Texas Speech-Language Hearing Association (TSHA). A bill had been introduced to abolish the regulation and licensure of audiologists and speech-language pathologists.
Higdon immediately contacted Shannon Butkus, TSHA vice president for social and governmental policy, to tell her about the proposal. House Bill 1684 removed audiologists and speech-language pathologists from the state code regulating 13 health-related providers, including physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, physical and occupational therapists, and social workers.
Butkus worked with TSHA staffers to post a red-alert message on the association’s Facebook page: “Urgent Legislative Update: House Bill 1684 was filed today. It proposes to abolish the regulation of speech-language pathologists and audiologists. TSHA is already working on this issue. We will post more information as soon as we have it available.”
“We wanted to be the first to tell our members about this,” Butkus said. “We wanted them to realize this was an emergency and to pay attention!”
And pay attention they did. The post went viral: It was shared and re-shared, until it was viewed almost 400,000 times. And members swamped the office of Rep. Jason Isaac, who had introduced the bill, with messages opposing the move.
Isaac introduced the bill, Butkus said, in hopes of reducing or eliminating licensure fees for audiologists and speech-language pathologists. He had been advised that with ASHA certification, licensure is redundant. His thinking was that new professionals often have heavy student loans to repay.
Also, Texas had deregulated hair-braiders in the previous legislative session, and Butkus said that Isaac assumed that audiology and speech-language pathology were similar low-liability professions.
The morning after the update crossed his desk, Higdon was waiting for Isaac and his staffers when their office opened. “Within an hour of listening to factual information regarding the value of licensure and certification, Rep. Isaac determined that it was ill-advised to advance his bill and decided not to pursue passage,” Butkus said.
Isaac was gracious and apologetic, Butkus said. At TSHA’s annual advocacy day several weeks later, he asked to meet with TSHA members, apologized to the membership and ceremoniously tore up the bill.
Over the past few months, the TSHA legislative team has noted a substantial increase in member engagement. Posts related to legislative activity are shared 50 to 100 times more than usual. TSHA also saw boosts in 2017 convention registration and membership.

The post went viral: It was shared and re-shared, until it was viewed almost 400,000 times.

Vigilance
ASHA does not anticipate similar bills in other states, but remains on alert. “We are vigilant about reviewing all state-level bills that may have significant consequences for our members,” says Janet Deppe, ASHA’s director of state advocacy. “ASHA’s state advocacy team is constantly on the lookout for potentially harmful legislation, and we work with state association leaders to respond to threats to licensure, scope of practice, insurance coverage and other issues.”
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June 2017
Volume 22, Issue 6