In an apparent attempt to ease the burden of having outstanding student loan debt, the Legislature implemented HB 115, also referred to as the Keep Our Graduates Working Act, which is meant “to ensure that Floridians who graduate from an accredited college or university can maintain their occupational licenses.” Essentially, the bill prohibits state agencies from denying licensure, suspending a license, refusing to renew a license, or disciplining a licensee based solely on the licensee’s failure to repay their student loans on time.
While the new bill applies to any “state authority” (defined as “any department, board, or agency with the authority to grant a license to any person in this state), it has a clear effect on the Florida Department of Health (DOH) and its current policies. The bill specifically amended Florida Statutes section 456.072(1)(k) to remove defaulting on student loans as grounds for discipline against health professionals. Further, it removed the requirement that DOH suspend a practitioner’s license for failing to remedy a defaulted student loan within 45 days of receiving notice from the DOH.
The most obvious upside to this bill is that it does exactly what its name entails: it keeps graduates working. The bill protects licensed professionals from losing work and losing money, which may put workers in a better position to repay the student loans at issue, and to provide for themselves and their families. Further, the bill signals to Florida citizens that their state representatives recognize that there is a student loan crisis, that the crisis must be addressed, and that outstanding loans should not financially cripple citizens even further.
One possible limitation of the bill is that it only protects individuals who have graduated from an accredited college or university, potentially leaving out students who have attended non-accredited programs or trade schools. It’s not clear whether this limitation excludes a large swath of licensed professionals.