Job Licensing Reform in Nebraska Is Only Beginning

Job Licensing Reform in Nebraska Is Only Beginning

Legislative Bill 299, the bill to review Nebraska’s job licensing laws, has already cleared several major hurdles in Lincoln. After facing tough opposition in committee and wandering in the wilderness in 2017, the bill also known as the Occupational Board Reform Act was finally advanced to the full Legislature early this year.

Then, introducing Sen. Laura Ebke moved it onto the legislative agenda by making it her 2018 priority bill.

That choice came with plenty of responsibility. Sen. Ebke and her staff spent weeks of the short session making amendments to the bill to satisfy industry and government concerns that appeared to stall LB299 in February.

That all led us to the point we’re at now, where the Occupational Board Reform Act has passed through first-round debate in the Unicameral by a vote of 31-0, with support from each party represented in the Legislature.

Some senators who previously opposed the bill came on board after amendments were adopted. Others who have concerns about the bill’s language withheld their votes hoping for more amendments in the second round, which are forthcoming.

Could another shoe drop along the way that will endanger this important bill? It’s entirely possible. LB299 needs to gain a net of two votes to overcome a filibuster should any senator decide they aren’t satisfied with the amendments.

But this marathon to pass comprehensive job licensing reform in Nebraska is only a warm-up for what lies ahead if LB299 becomes law.

In the case of many bills, being signed into law is synonymous with achieving the goal of the legislation. Nebraskans need to obey the new law, and that creates the policy change lawmakers were looking for.

With the Occupational Board Reform Act, though, passage will only be the beginning of an ongoing mission to scrutinize the job licensing laws Nebraska has on the books.

LB299 will require legislative committees to review occupational regulations under their jurisdiction every five years, or roughly 20 percent a year. For the first time, lawmakers will have to analyze existing licensing under a framework that considers less-restrictive regulatory alternatives to licensure, including private certification, registration, inspections, bonding and insurance requirements, or open market competition.  

While this framework will undoubtedly change the questions senators are asking in the process of making licensing laws, the findings of this review process will only be advisory.

Any policy changes that may result would be up to new classes of lawmakers who run with that information. Some may not enter office until many years from today.

Should LB299 become law, the Platte Institute stands ready to be a resource to all state senators in this process. We’re looking forward to teaching candidates and elected legislators what the LB299 process aims to accomplish, and how they can use this new tool to be responsive to the needs of workers in Nebraska and serve the public interest.

Each year, we’ll issue our own report on how well the Occupational Board Reform Act is being implemented, and the policy improvements senators can make to occupational regulation by reviewing committee recommendations.

We're not under any illusion that every committee recommendation over the next five years will meet our definition of the least-restrictive form of regulation consistent with health and safety.

But we do have the expectation that lawmakers will be looking at job licensing and the right to make a living in Nebraska in a whole new way; a way that is more responsive to workers, consumers, and entrepreneurs who did not have as strong of a voice in the job licensing process before. 

Photo by Leif Skoogfors for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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