Bill that would change how social workers are licensed in Utah advances to the Senate

Feb 16, 2023, 7:04 PM | Updated: 7:28 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – A bill that would change the way social workers are licensed in Utah has passed in the State House and is ready for a vote in the Senate. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo, believes H.B. 250 will remove unnecessary barriers to the field.

“This is very urgent,” she said. “We have a huge, huge lack of mental health workers in our state, and we’ve had an increase of mental health issues in our state.”

The bill would eliminate one of two tests social workers take after graduation and create an alternative path to licensure for those unable to pass the remaining clinical exam. The alternate pathway would include an extra 2,000 hours of supervised practice.

“There is implicit bias in this test,” said Judkins, citing data showing people of color and those who speak English as a second language pass the clinical exam at lower rates.

“This is just a huge barrier for people being able to work in their own communities,” Judkins said, “And the communities that are the most vulnerable in our state and could really use these social workers.”

Utah’s Social Worker Licensing Board opposes the bill.

“I would encourage lawmakers to slow down here,” said Marette Monson, who chairs the board.

Monson spoke with KSL in her capacity as a licensed clinical social worker.

“I believe that it puts the public at risk,” she said of the legislation. “It eliminates the minimum competency licensing exam from graduates and makes it so that many social workers who may have not had any clinical training whatsoever, can now begin to work with individuals in clinical practice without being competent.”

Under H.B. 250, Monson said some licenses issued in Utah would not be valid in other states. She also warns changing Utah’s licensing process could keep the state from joining the national compact, a deal in the works that would allow social workers living in Utah to practice in other states that also opt in.

“It could hurt us quite a bit in the long run, in an effort to work on our shortage,” she said.

Licensed clinical social worker and Utah Valley University professor, Alan Misbach shared concerns during public testimony in the Senate Business and Labor Committee meeting Wednesday, telling members Utah has already had issues with social workers licensed through an existing alternative pathway.

“The alternate path is already problematic in that we have social workers without proper training or qualifications, who are making some of the most vital decisions regarding child abuse,” he said. “This will further endanger the citizens of Utah by taking away the qualification exam.”

“This is not endangering anyone,” Judkins said. “We’re finding that how well you do on a test, in all areas, doesn’t necessarily say how well you will do in a certain field.”

She said those who choose the alternative path will know where their license allows them to practice.

“This is not taking away the requirement to test,” she explained. “This is saying, you graduate, you do your supervised hours, you take the clinical exam. Everybody has to take that clinical exam. If you can’t pass it, and you choose to take a different path, that would be their choice.”

As for the compact, Judkins noted it is not a done deal, and points to other states that are starting to move away from the test too.

The Senate Business and Labor Committee heard public testimony for and against the bill Wednesday, and ultimately passed it out favorably. Though Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, who is sponsoring the legislation in the Senate, said he anticipates a challenge once it goes to the Senate floor for a vote.

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Bill that would change how social workers are licensed in Utah advances to the Senate