AUSTIN, Texas — A federal court in Texas has sided with an Air Force spouse that the state’s education agency violated a new federal law when it refused to recognize her professional license issued in another state.

When Hannah Magee Portèe’s husband, an Air Force officer, received orders to relocate to Laughlin Air Force Base near Del Rio, Texas, earlier this year, she sought to have her license to work as a school counselor recognized by the Texas Education Agency. Under a provision added in January to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, states are required to recognize another state’s professional license so long as the military spouse has used the license to work during the previous two years.

She filed the federal lawsuit in May in the Western District of Texas and received a preliminary injunction to work in July. By then, she said she was only able to find work for the 2023-24 school year as a long-term substitute counselor.

Congress passed the law to help curb military spouse unemployment which has sat stubbornly around 20% for the last decade despite ongoing efforts to improve job opportunities. Roughly 34% of military spouses work in occupations that require a license, according to the Department of Labor. Frequent moves across state lines make it difficult for those spouses to quickly transfer their license and find a new job.

Texas argued that its own law required that Magee Portèe used the license continuously over the previous two years, and therefore the new federal law “would not apply to Texas,” according to court documents.

Magee Portèe’s previous employment had not been continuous but stretched across two jobs she held in 2022 in Missouri and Ohio. She holds a school counselor license in each state.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman ruled that the new provision only required use of the license “at some point” during the two years immediately before relocation due to military orders — not continuously as Texas had argued.

The Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in Magee Portèe’s case during the summer, noting it as the first legal test of the new provision in the Service members Civil Relief Act.

“Without vigorous enforcement of the SCRA … our nation’s ability to meet its critical defense needs will suffer,” U.S. Attorney Jaime Esparza wrote in the statement filed in July.

While the Texas Education Agency did file a response to Magee Portèe’s initial motion for a preliminary injunction, the agency did not file one to the lawsuit. It also did not immediately respond to request for comment on the judge’s ruling, which also ordered Texas to pay Magee Portèe’s legal fees — a requirement under the SCRA.

Magee Portèe said she expects that her husband’s training at Laughlin will end before next school year and the couple will likely move before she can use her new Texas license for a permanent position.

“We knew that this probably wasn’t going to move anywhere fast enough to help me get the kind of job that I needed this school year,” she said. “The hope was just that it will help the next person. In Texas now there’s a legal precedent that says licenses should transfer.”

(Joseph Barron/U.S. Air Force)

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Rose L. Thayer is based in Austin, Texas, and she has been covering the western region of the continental U.S. for Stars and Stripes since 2018. Before that she was a reporter for Killeen Daily Herald and a freelance journalist for publications including The Alcalde, Texas Highways and the Austin American-Statesman. She is the spouse of an Army veteran and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism. Her awards include a 2021 Society of Professional Journalists Washington Dateline Award and an Honorable Mention from the Military Reporters and Editors Association for her coverage of crime at Fort Hood.

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