What is an agency? The answer is more complex than it would appear.
Let’s go back to sixth grade social studies. You are learning about the three branches of United States government.
You have the legislative, the branch which is responsible for creating laws.
You have the judicial branch, which is responsible for interpreting law.
You have the executive branch, which is responsible for enforcing the law.
Where does a state agency fall? Rip each one of those pages out of your textbook, crumple them into a ball. That is the power of an agency. Simply put, the agency has all of power … at least over their respective specialty. In terms of a licensing board that specialty is your career.
Technically, an extension of the executive branch (the Governor appoints key officials, such as Board Members and Directors), agencies are intended to carry out the various duties of government, whether that be the regulation of hospitals, nursing homes, prisons – or in the case of licensing boards, your profession. In terms of licensing boards, a board is composed primarily of members of that profession – or peers. However, all boards usually reserve a few spots for laypersons who represent the viewpoint of the public.
The theory underlying a licensing board is to allow a profession to govern itself – to have experts lend their expertise to ensure what metrics should be used to judge whether a member of a profession is practicing in a safe and responsible manner.
Licensing boards are responsible for creating standards, protocols, rules and regulations governing each profession. Boards also evaluate candidates for licensure and decide whether to grant applicants the right to practice that profession in Iowa. Most of the individuals who walk through our doors, however, are more interested in the third primary duty of a licensing board – discipline; otherwise known as the power to punish you.
Licensing boards are responsible for every aspect of discipline, which will be described in detail in this blog series. Discipline can include everything from a non-disciplinary warning to the indefinite revocation of your professional license. Of course, the boards may also choose not to discipline.
It’s important to realize, however, that the Legislature has limited the power of agencies to affect your license and explicitly states that any time an agency threatens the “… legal rights, duties or privileges …,” of a licensee, that licensee must be given the right to defend themselves in front of that regulatory board.”
The rights of the licensee and the powers of the regulatory agency are unique, however. Your ability to defend yourself is found in a mesh of Iowa law and agency regulation (the rules the agencies create to regulate themselves). The Iowa Administrative Code – a collection of those rules – serves as a separate set of rules and procedures most attorneys have never had reason to use. That’s why it is important, when you seek to defend your career, to make sure that you have counsel who is familiar with how agencies function and can give you the best defense possible.
In closing, it is important that you, as a licensed professional, understand the driving function of a licensing board. The staff that helped you apply and confirmed that your professional license was approved may seem nice and helpful. In fact, they probably are nice and helpful. However, the agency’s job is not to help you. Every executive director, board member, staff person, receptionist, investigator, and anyone else who is associated with a licensing board is required, by law, to protect the public interest. If a professional board starts asking questions about your business or practice, make sure you find someone to protect yours.