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A military spouse is fighting Texas in court after it stalled her career

Defense Visual Information Distribution Service

Hannah Portée is in a court battle with the state of Texas after it refused to recognize her out-of-state professional licenses. It’s the first test of a federal law aimed at shielding military spouses from career setbacks when they move on military orders.

Earlier this year, President Biden signed legislation that overhauls professional licenses for military families. Military spouses can now transfer valid licenses across state lines, and state licensing agencies must recognize them.

The provision, included in the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), was a boon for the defense community. Military families move every 2.5 years on average, according to the Military Family Advisory Network. It has traditionally been costly and time-consuming for spouses to update their professional licenses — delaying their reentry into the workforce. For years, the unemployment rate for military spouses has held steady at around 22%

Hannah Portée, who relocated to Del Rio with her Air Force spouse in 2022, filed suit in May after state education officials refused to honor her school counseling licenses from Missouri and Ohio. With a master’s degree and a year of professional counseling experience, Portée is asking the state for the chance to continue her career.

The school counseling licensure process in Texas takes at least two years — and Portée and her husband may need to move again before she receives her credential.

“What's important to note is that giving her a license is not guaranteeing her a job by any means. She still has to be competitive in the workforce. But by not giving her a license, she's not able to get any of those job opportunities,” said Portée’s attorney Brandon Grable.

In order for licenses to be portable, the SCRA requires that a military spouse has actively used the license during the two years preceding the relocation.

Grable takes a liberal interpretation of that, while Texas education officials interpret it to mean that Portée must have been employed as a full-time school counselor for two years in order for her license to transfer. The state says the SCRA aligns with a state-level rule that grants applicants with two years of professional experience exemptions from licensure assessment exams.

“It doesn't make sense because she's got the schooling. She's passed two exams in two different states. She has at least one year of experience. So where did this two years of experience come from? Who made that up? Why did they make it up? What benefit does it really offer the state of Texas?” Grable said.

The Texas Education Agency does not comment on pending litigation.

Last week, a federal judge granted Portée an preliminary injunction which allows her to continue her career as a licensed counselor in Texas while her case is pending. However, she told Military Times that schools are hesitant to hire her with only a temporary assurance of licensure.

The Justice Department has filed a statement of interest in support of Portée’s request.

Grable said there’s a learning curve for states when it comes to major pieces of legislation like the SCRA and its license portability provision.

“You just can't call up a licensing agency and say, ‘Hey, you need to change the way you do things.’ It does take litigation. It does take a court order and it does take advocacy,” he explained.

More than a third of military spouses work in occupations that require licensing, according to the Defense Department.

The Military Desk at Texas Public Radio is made possible in part by North Park Lincoln and Rise Recovery.

Carson Frame can be reached carson@tpr.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame