DEPARTMENTS
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PROFESSIONAL GROWTH
Protecting Certification
Coalition of Professional Organizations Fights Louisiana Bill
BY BENJAMIN JELIN
It all started with a social media post from the AIHA Deep South Local Section President titled, “Louisiana Takes Aim at Professional Credentials.” As a new diplomate of the American Board of Industrial Hygiene who lives in New Orleans, I was instantly intrigued.

As I dug a little deeper, I reviewed the actual legislation to see what was really going on. According to my interpretation of Louisiana House Bill 748 §42.1.a, anyone possessing a certification from a voluntary program and not from the state would be barred from using “certified” as a title. I also discovered that there wasn’t much information on the legislation, including who the interested parties were or why such a provision would be included. This legislation would affect nearly all high-earning professions, as professional certifications are not only a way to stand out among peers but also a legal or professional requirement to conduct business in certain sectors. I felt that if the bill was passed as written, there would have been severe consequences for professionals living and working in the state I call home. Likely, the state would have experienced a “brain drain,” as highly qualified professionals left to pursue lawful occupations elsewhere. The knock-on effect would be lower quality services to the residents of Louisiana and a decrease in the state income tax base. Personally and professionally, §42.1.a made no sense to me and served no purpose nor a real constituency. 
BENJAMIN JELIN, MPH, PhD, CIH, is a project manager in the Industrial Hygiene and Health and Safety Services Group at Partner Engineering and Science Inc. A graduate of Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, he has almost 10 years of experience working in government and consulting. He can be reached via email.
PREPARING TO TESTIFY One of my former professors at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine emailed me a week before the Louisiana State Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection and International Affairs Committee was to take up House Bill 748. She asked if I could represent AIHA at the hearing and testify, if necessary. With help from Mark Ames, AIHA’s director of Government Relations, I quickly began preparing. AIHA had gathered a coalition of professional organizations with similar concerns and engaged a lobbying group to have §42.1.a struck from House Bill 748. Since the bill would have also put my wife’s professional designation as a Realtor in jeopardy, I thought it best to bring her along to the hearing.  Upon arriving at the state capitol in Baton Rouge, I met with other representatives of our coalition and the lobbyist to discuss the status of our appeal to the bill’s author and the governor. Apparently, some of the behind-the-scenes actions had been fruitful, and the governor’s office had agreed to support our coalition’s request to delete §42.1.a from the bill. But the lobbyist made it clear that the governor’s support for our request did not ensure that the changes would be made. We would still have to voice our opposition to §42.1.a in the event that things went sideways. I filled out a “red card” as a representative of AIHA, which signaled our organization’s opposition to HB 748 as written. The card would be delivered to the chairman of the committee and be read aloud prior to my testimony. IN THE COMMITTEE ROOM As a group, the coalition walked into the committee room. There were lots of familiar handshakes between well-dressed people and plenty of pats on the back. The familiarity among everyone was interesting, to say the least, but my focus was on my testimony and the committee hearing. My wife and I sat in the front row of the committee room behind the desk from which testimony would be taken. The room was packed with representatives from other concerned professional organizations—everyone from accountants to veterinarians. The crowd was so large that the capitol police had to open an overflow room to accommodate everyone.  The first testimony was provided by legal counsel for the governor and the bill’s author from the House of Representatives. The committee chairman noted that he hadn’t seen such a large crowd for a bill like this before and that it seemed to have ruffled many feathers in the professional community. The bill’s author almost immediately conceded that she and the governor would support all the amendments to the bill. This was great news for our coalition, but some of the senators on the committee had received multiple calls and letters of concern about §42.1.a and, as I saw it, wanted the bill’s author to “eat some crow.”  After some questioning, the bill’s author noted that the wording of the bill was changed somehow during the development process in the House of Representatives. Its original intent was to limit those without professional certifications from using “certified” in their titles. It was a little baffling and frustrating to see how easily a single edit could change the entire meaning of the bill, but it seemed as though our point had gotten across and the changes that we were fighting for were going to be implemented. ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL It was fascinating to see the other parts of House Bill 748 debated meticulously through legislative procedure, with points of order, substitutions, and a complete rewrite of the entire bill during the session. Once the bill had been amended by the committee, striking any mention of “certification” or its definition under state law, the chairman exclaimed it was likely that most of the people who had attended the hearing to testify would not need to do so because §42.1.a had been removed. The committee asked members of our coalition if we would still like to testify. After a nervous glance to the lobbyist, we decided we had already gotten what we wanted and we did not want to waste the committee’s time.
Although I was a little deflated that I would not get to formally testify on behalf of AIHA, I still felt honored to represent the organization and CIH designation in the state of Louisiana. If you have the chance participate in the legislative process on behalf of AIHA or any other professional organization, I would recommend doing so. It is a great opportunity not only to see “how the sausage is made,” but also to make a difference.
If the bill was passed as written, there would have been severe consequences for professionals living and working in the state I call home.
The Louisiana State Capitol Building in Baton Rouge.