Herald editorial board
A year ago, the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force sent a letter to the National Governors Association, outlining what they consider the most challenging drawbacks for military families who endure station transfers as they serve their country.
They didn't pull any punches as they urged for high-quality schools near bases and also for states to better allow spouses of servicemen and women to continue their careers after a station change.
"With that in mind," the secretaries told the governors, "we will encourage leadership to consider the quality of schools near bases and whether reciprocity of professional licenses is available for military families when evaluating future basing or mission alternatives."
We added the emphasis to better make our point: In the future, base and mission decisions could hinge on whether cities and states have provided quality schools and immediate work opportunities for spouses via license reciprocity laws.
Quality schools near North Dakota bases evidently isn't a problem, but license reciprocity is. That's why we hope the North Dakota House of Representatives approves legislation that would make it easier for trailing military spouses to immediately work when stationed here.
It's a wish of Gov. Doug Burgum as well as Grand Forks-area lawmakers, who understand why it's important for the state to improve the quality of life for those associated with military bases.
Grand Forks Air Force Base contributes an estimated $280 million into the economy. The base has 1,600 active-duty personnel and another 1,500 dependents. That doesn't include another 1,000 associated jobs at the base by non-Air Force personnel. The active-duty military pay at the base is $91.8 million and the civilian payroll comes to about $33.6 million.
The local base also is adjacent to a burgeoning multi-million-dollar industry that caters to unmanned aerial systems.
North Dakota, meanwhile, has more than 13,000 unfilled jobs, many of which require licensing. Often, trailing military spouses are qualified to fill those openings, but because of the existing licensing process they are not able to immediately work. Since many military spouses are in the state only for a few years, it is professionally prohibitive to spend the first several months awaiting licensure.
Senate Bill 2306 can help. The measure would make it easier for spouses of military personnel to transfer their existing occupational licenses for use in North Dakota, provided they are in good standing and licensed by a reasonable entity.
SB 2306 was introduced by Sen. Scott Meyer, R-Grand Forks, and is backed by other lawmakers from the area. It breezed through the Senate, 47-0; its first House committee hearing is Tuesday.
Losing military bases is a common worry in North Dakota, a state that relies so heavily on the military's presence. After the secretaries of the three branches specifically warned that evaluation of base locations will consider license reciprocity, we believe it's important to react favorably. We opined in favor of SB 2306 in December, even before we realized the very specific wording used by the military secretaries.
Other states - such as Utah - are doing it. North Dakota's House of Representatives should follow suit and push through SB 2306.