LB 347 – Change Provisions Relating to School Bus Permits
Good afternoon, Chairman Friesen and members of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. My name is Nicole Fox, and I am the Director of Government Relations for the Platte Institute for Economic Research. Thank you, Senator Giest, for introducing LB 347. I am here today to testify in support of this bill.
Nebraska faces a workforce shortage, and occupational licensing creates a significant labor force issue. Nearly 200 different occupations in Nebraska require a government license, affecting nearly 1 in 4 workers. This is negatively affecting businesses trying to hire employees and individuals seeking a means to earn an honest living as my testimony will attempt to illustrate today. Reform of occupational licensing laws to lessen burdensome regulation is an economic issue that needs to be addressed.
Occupational licensing laws were initially created as a means of protecting the public from negligent and unqualified workers, but more and more, instead of protecting the public from harm, we now understand that occupational licensing is making it difficult for new workers to enter the workforce.
Requirements for school bus drivers are unjustifiably more onerous in Nebraska than in other states. Currently, Nebraska law requires persons desiring to seek work as a school bus driver to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), which is the same for every state in the nation. Where Nebraska is more onerous is that they must also obtain a school bus driver permit. The necessary steps one must take in order to obtain these items require individuals to go through two agencies, the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Education.
The Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999 (MCSIA) was enacted by Congress to ensure the safety of school bus drivers. Nebraska adopted the MCSIA requirements and these went into effect in 2005. The MCSIA covers all vehicles over 26,000 pounds or which carry 16 or more passengers including the driver. The “S” (school bus) endorsement was created for operators of school buses where the operator is required to hold a CDL. Under federal law, a CDL holder must have an “S” and “P” (passenger) endorsement to drive a school bus in all 50 states. Many states, including Nebraska, had school bus permits prior to the creation of this federal legislation for CDLs. Almost all states that had this permit have eliminated this provision due to redundancy. The only states that still require a school bus driver permit are Illinois and Nebraska.
For some individuals and families, the fees associated with occupational licensing create significant financial barriers. Needing to obtain both a School Bus Permit and a CDL license obviously imposes and added financial burden to work.
Before concluding my testimony, I’d like to read comments sent to me by Nebraska resident Luke French who has reached out to the Platte Institute regarding occupational licensing concerns. Luke could not be here to testify today as currently there is a shortage of bus drivers in his district, and he was not able to find someone to substitute for his 3:30 route. “I’d like to address the issue of requiring a license for bus driving only. Some of the laws we have to go through now are ridiculous, such as knowing how to fix your brakes and checking the depth of your tires. The tests bus drivers are required to take are the same ones that over the road truckers are required to have. I think it’s ironic you don’t have to have a special license to drive a large motor home, while towing a boat and have no experience driving something that large, but you have to have one for driving a bus. You are required to get a CDL license and a special bus license to drive a school bus. Appointments have to be made to take these driving tests. Health physicals must taken. Drug tests aren’t part of the physical, but we are checked for a hernia? This makes no sense to me. Now there is talk of having bus drivers take sleep apnea tests. How many school systems can afford all of this?”
As I think about these comments, I think about differences in the urban versus rural areas of the state. Not only are multiple appointments needed for these licenses, but in very rural parts of the state such as Cherry County, a drive to the DMV is no short trip. This illustrates another added burden some people in our state are facing when trying to earn an honest living.
LB 347 will change the duplicative requirement of obtaining both a School Bus Permit and a CDL. It repeals the duplicative requirement of two separate state agencies issuing the permit, removing the Department of Motor Vehicles from the process and allowing the Nebraska Department of Education to regulate school bus drivers and authorize them. The Department of Education is supportive of eliminating this permit. This will make Nebraska’s licensing requirements more consistent and competitive with our neighboring states, lessen financial burdens to work, streamline the required testing to meet licensing requirements and hopefully alleviate the shortage of bus drivers faced by school districts.
The Platte Institute for Economic Research strongly supports occupational licensing reform as a means of lessening burdens to those trying to enter the state’s workforce. I ask that you advance LB 347 out of committee.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I am happy to answer any questions the committee may have.