Military Spouse Licensure: What Are These Interstate Compacts?

December 1, 2017

It's been brought up many times over many years: 50 states, hundreds of career fields, and handfuls of military-ordered moves across state lines combine to result in unending frustration for career-focused military spouses. 

Why can't we just make a federal law requiring acceptance of a license or certification of a trailing military spouse in all 50 states? The short answer: It's a constitutional issue. But that doesn't mean we can't have a national solution. Let's talk about interstate compacts. 

Driver's licenses are a great example of how these work. Every state makes its own rules of the road, determining age of eligibility, required documentation, and testing for issuing a driver's license. Every state has different legal requirements for what will cause you to lose your license. Yet we don't have to get a new license every time we go to a new state. Why?  

Because there is a Driver's License Compact that states volunteer to participate in. It does things like prohibit issuance of a new license to an applicant with a suspended license in another state and require reporting to other states on violations of law, such as driving under the influence. 

Believe it or not, not every one of the 50 states is a member of this compact. If an unscrupulous driver with a license from a non-compact state commits a driving violation across the state line, it might not end up on their driving record in their home state or affect their license to drive. A state reserves any power for itself that is not explicitly granted to the federal government, or prohibited, by the Constitution.   

So, how does this apply to military spouse licensure?  

Interstate compacts bridge the gap between state sovereignty and federal overreach. They ensure every state has the right to regulate within its boundary lines, and they ensure consequences for those who might try to use variations in state law to their advantage. This is largely what states are afraid of in professional licensure and certification. 

For example, suppose State A wants to ensure chariot manufacturers in its jurisdiction meet a certain standard and face consequences for violations, so it requires them to have a license to operate. State B has similar, but not entirely identical, requirements and consequences. Neither wants to raise or lower their standard (which would allow manufacturers to perform work or sell chariots in both states). This resistance could be due to technical, administrative, cultural, or fiscal constraints. 

Regardless of the reason, they have the right to regulate as they see fit.  A compact allows them to work together to ensure the safety of their populations by agreeing to regulate and enforce their own rules regarding that profession and share information to protect both populations and offer more flexibility to the populations of both states. 

State regulation is not going to go away, and it's unlikely we will ever get all 50 states to agree to one set of standards and one system of enforcement for every license military spouses might have. After all, we don't even have a single national driver's license. However, there are already interstate compacts in the field of nursing, medicine, and physical therapy, and there are more being developed all of the time.  

If you want to work now, what can you do? MOAA is a staunch advocate of the expansion of these interstate compacts to aid military spouses. In the meantime, there is some kind of licensure or certification accommodation in all 50 states: expedited licenses, temporary licenses, and licenses by endorsement. These are meant to get you into the workplace faster after a PCS. Additionally, the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act includes a provision allowing the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard to reimburse up to $500 of expenses for a military spouse's licensure and certification costs directly connected to a PCS across state lines. 

We know these aren't enough. We know they don't always meet the career needs of trailing military spouses. We'd like to hear from you about your experience as you have taken your license from state to state using the system that exists now. Email us and share your story at

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