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Midlands Voices: Nebraska can boost economy with new round of licensing reform
Midlands Voices

Midlands Voices: Nebraska can boost economy with new round of licensing reform

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In the food industry, Nebraskans have turned their innovations into household names, like Kool-Aid, and the flat iron steak. We’re not usually known for cutting-edge public policy, though.

Our big contribution to the American experiment, the nonpartisan Unicameral, wasn’t copied by other states, and the body tends to favor tradition over trailblazing.

But thanks to state senators scrutinizing rules for getting a job or starting a business, Nebraska has been recognized as a leader in occupational licensing reform in recent years.

Senators in every party passed bills reducing barriers in about 10% of Nebraska’s licensed careers, and in 2018, overwhelmingly adopted the Occupational Board Reform Act. Now, legislative committees regularly review licensing laws to identify less restrictive alternatives.

These changes have been a team effort including nonprofits, community members, legal organizations and even the Omaha World-Herald’s editorials.

So far, committees have reviewed approximately 55% of Nebraska’s licenses, inspiring more reforms. These include State Sen. Matt Hansen’s bill to remove antiquated permitting requirements for locksmiths, and State Sen. Megan Hunt’s voluntary registration proposal for interior designers, which increases services for clients without creating new licensing.

Changing the way lawmakers look at job licensing has allowed more Nebraskans to use their skills to make an honest living and meet the needs of customers who are often underserved.

As every state competes for workers and aims to recover from last year’s recession, legislatures are not only beginning to follow Nebraska’s lead, but also surpass the landmark achievements made in Lincoln.

When the pandemic began, most states, including Nebraska, adopted emergency universal recognition of health care practitioner licensing from other states.

The idea behind universal recognition is that workers licensed in good standing in another state, or with significant work experience, are perfectly capable of performing under the same scope of practice across state lines. This policy made so much sense during the crisis that states including Iowa, Missouri and South Dakota adopted permanent universal recognition across a broad range of professions.

In the post-pandemic economy, more Americans are opting for remote work and can live anywhere. Many will have family members practicing licensed occupations, and states are cutting red tape and rolling out the red carpet for these qualified, trained professionals.

State Sen. Tom Briese’s Legislative Bill 263 would allow Nebraska to catch up with the growing list of states offering universal recognition. Currently, the bill remains in the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

The Legislature has taken previous steps with recognition of licensing in some health care-related fields for military spouses. LB 263 would include all licensed occupations, but also allow those leaving military service who have a civilian-similar military occupational specialty (MOS) to become licensed in the field in which they trained.

Universal recognition also addresses states’ wide variation in initial licensing requirements, a potential barrier to attracting new people, jobs and businesses. It’s estimated that 1,100 occupations are regulated by states, but fewer than 60 by all states.

Arbitrary restrictions can keep out workers we should want and need, like Ilona Holland. Years ago, she moved from Maryland with a massage therapy license, eager to open a Nebraska business.

The practice of massage therapy is the same in both states. But because Nebraska’s licensing requirements are more costly and time-consuming, Ilona was told she would have to go back to school to be licensed in Nebraska.

Instead, she opened her business in Council Bluffs. She enjoyed working in western Iowa so much, her family eventually decided to relocate there.

The progress of recent years shows licensing reform can be a success for everyone involved; for workers from civilian and military families, for industries looking to grow and for policymakers who want to make Nebraska a more welcoming place to live and work.

Adopting LB 263 means no longer turning away people licensed or skilled to contribute to in-demand fields in Nebraska. Let’s welcome more new Nebraskans. They can work to make the Good Life even greater.

Jim Vokal of Omaha, is chief executive officer at the Platte Institute.

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