Issue Area 1:The Board of Examiners in Counseling Fulfills Most of the General Provisions for Licensing Boards
The Board of Examiners in Counseling (BOEC), codified in Chapter 30, Article 31 of the West Virginia Code was created in 1986 for the purpose of regulating the profession of counseling. The Board is composed of 7 members appointed by the Governor. The primary responsibilities of the Board is to issue, renew, deny, suspend or revoke licenses to engage in the practice of counseling. The BOEC is also responsible for ensuring that counselors have passed a standardized national certification examination approved by the Board.
The Legislative Auditor evaluated the BOEC by determining if it was in compliance with general provisions for Boards of examinations as required by West Virginia Code §30-1. The following areas were examined as part of the evaluation.
The Board's License Fees Are Not Adequate to Carry Out Its Duties
The general provisions for licensing Boards requires that fees are sufficient to enable the Board to effectively carry out its statutory responsibilities (§30-1-6(c)). The BOEC license fees are not adequate to carry out its duties. As of March 1, 1999, the Board's Program Specialist voluntarily delayed being paid for 120 hours of work until the adequacy of funding was certain. The program specialist reviews license applications and answers questions regarding the Board, and the license and application process. The Board is allowing the program specialist to work from her home, mainly answering telephone calls through her voice mail. This prevents the Board's funds from being exhausted several months before the end of the fiscal year. As Table 1 shows, as of January 20, 1999 the Board only had $2,270 left for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Expenditures for the Board of Examiners in Counseling
|Fiscal Year||Beginning Balance||Revenue||Disbursements||Ending Balance|
|Source: West Virginia State Auditor's Office.|
A distinct reason for the apparent lack of funding for the Board can be seen by looking at its licensing fees. The Legislative Auditor's Office did a fee comparison of other West Virginia Licensing Boards. Currently, the Board charges $50 for its application fee and $25 every 2 years for its renewal fee. As Table 2 indicates, in most instances the BOEC is charging a lower rate for its application and licensing fees than these other Boards.
Fees for West Virginia Boards
West Virginia Boards
|Licensed Practical Nurse||$85||$40/yr|
|Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant|
|Physical Therapy Assistant||$110||$35/yr|
The BOEC's renewal fee is collected once every two years. An applicant applying for a license between the renewal dates only pays the application fee. If they become licensed between renewal years, they are not required to pay a pro-rated amount. This means that applicants applying between renewal periods are not paying any fees to practice as LPC's until the next renewal period. An applicant could practice as a LPC for more than a year without paying a license fee. This is not fair to those who paid the renewal fee. By pro-rating its renewal fee for those who are licensed between renewal periods, all practicing LPC's will have paid the required fee to be licensed. Furthermore, it was found that between July 1995 and June 1997 the Board lost an estimated $1,884 by not pro-rating the renewal fee. Considering the Board's tight financial situation, this amount of money can make a difference.
A similar comparison was made with states adjacent to West Virginia. Table 3 shows that as is the case with West Virginia Boards, the fees of other states are higher. Currently, the Board is requesting a rule change to increase its fees. It has proposed an application fee of $120 and a two year renewal fee of $75. This change would bring the Board more in line with the fees of similar Boards and other states.
Fees for Surrounding States Counseling Boards
|State||Application Fee||Renewal Fee (2 years)|
|West Virginia current||$50.00||$25.00|
|West Virginia proposed||$120.00||$75.00|
The Board does not Validate Certain Application Information and Continuing Education
In order to become a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), each applicant must pass the National Counselor Exam and have either a masters or doctorate in counseling. Among other things, each application must include three professional and three personal recommendations. A recommendation from the supervisor of the applicant's internship must be included as one of the professional references. For supervisors to qualify as such, they must have an active LPC license, and have had an active license for at least 2 years previous. The BOEC requires a copy of the supervisors license if they are out-of-state. However, according to the BOEC because it is aware of who most of the in-state professional counselors are, it does not verify the professional references. Between 1997 and 1998, the Board renewed 833 licenses. Given such a high number, it would be difficult to know every LPC well enough to not have to verify a reference received from them. Personal references are not verified either.
To renew their LPC license, individuals must complete 40 hours of continuing education every two years. LPC's must attach certificates of completion with their renewal applications for approval by the Board. The certificates must contain the date and time of the lecture or seminar, the title, the sponsoring organization's name, a signature from the sponsoring organization, the signature of the presenter and the number of hours the lecture or seminar is worth. According to the BOEC, most of the continuing education is offered by Marshall University, WVU, the West Virginia Counseling Association and Social Work Conferences. Because of this, if the forms are completed correctly they are generally accepted. Anything sponsored by the National Board of Certified Counselor is automatically accepted. In previous years, the BOEC has verified out-of state seminars before issuing credit for them.
The Board Investigates and Resolves Complaints
The general provisions of WV Code §30-1-5(b) stipulates that the Board
...has a duty to investigate and resolve complaints which it receives and shall do so in a timely manner. Every board shall provide public access to the record of the disposition of complaints which it receives....
Disposition of Complaints
|Person not an LPC||2|
On or before the first day of January of each year in which the Legislature meets in regular session, the board shall submit to the Governor and to the Legislature a report of its transactions for the preceding two years, an itemized statement of its receipts and disbursements for that period, a full list of the names of all persons licensed by the board, including any action taken by the board regarding those complaints.
The Board should periodically verify professional references and continuing education hours of applicants.
The Board should pro-rate its renewal fees for individuals who are licensed between fee collection years to avoid loss of revenues.