Nebraska can build its workforce with licensing recognition

Nebraska can build its workforce with licensing recognition

Nebraska is widely acknowledged to face one of the most severe labor shortages in the country. Even if every unemployed Nebraskan found work right this minute, there would be tens of thousands of jobs still unfilled.

Although the nature of the labor market is currently changing all across the country, not every state is being challenged to the same degree. Arizona was recently ranked as the 8th least impacted state by labor shortages.

One of the ways Arizona has increased its number of skilled workers is by reducing barriers to entry into its job market. Like Nebraska, Arizona lawmakers have scrutinized the amount of licenses needed for getting a job or starting a business. But another approach the fast-growing state has used is welcoming experienced workers through universal recognition of licenses.

Universal recognition merely means that licensing boards in one state will recognize an existing license (or government permit) and experience from another state as sufficient for licensing in the new state. It acknowledges that an individual doesn’t lose their skill by merely moving to a new state for licensing purposes. LB263, sponsored by Sen. Tom Briese in the 107th Legislature, would have accomplished broad universal recognition of licenses in Nebraska. Unfortunately, that bill—amended and prioritized as part of Sen. John McCollister’s LB709—fell victim to the time constraints of the 2022 legislative session, when lawmakers spent a significant amount of time allocating federal COVID-19 funds.

As of March of this year, at least ten states including Arizona had adopted broad universal recognition. The list includes Nebraska’s neighbors in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Wyoming. Additionally, we know of four states, including Nebraska border states, Wyoming and South Dakota, that have enacted scaled-down versions of universal recognition.

Arizona was the first state to adopt universal recognition for a broad swath of occupations when it passed HB 2569 in 2019, and most of the states enacting universal recognition have used the Arizona bill as a baseline or model. From analyzing licensing board data from the past 2 ½ years of universal recognition, a recent study from the Common Sense Institute shows both the success and promise of universal recognition. New Arizonans have been issued nearly 5,000 licenses through the universal recognition process.

The report goes on to describe modeling by Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), which suggests that by 2030, Arizona’s universal recognition program will increase the state’s workforce by nearly 16,000, increase its population by just over 44,000, and increase its Gross Domestic Product by at least $1.5 billion.

Although Nebraska’s population is less than one-third the size of Arizona’s, any potential growth in the workforce, population, and GDP would be welcome in our state. The Unicameral recognized this in 2021 when it passed two priority bills—LB389, sponsored by Sen. Rita Sanders, and LB390, sponsored by Sen. Dave Murman—which expanded recognition of teaching certificates from out of state for educators who are active-duty military spouses and recognized licenses for several health care professions, respectively.

Early numbers from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services suggest that more licensing recognition encourages more interest in coming to Nebraska. One dentist has been licensed based on LB390 provisions, and five other individuals have inquired about Nebraska’s recognition process where their licenses are concerned. An additional dentist and pharmacist have their licensing applications pending via the LB390 pathway. No information is available yet on teacher certification requests.

While LB389 and LB390 made progress on licensing recognition, imagine the impact that could be made if far more licensed professionals—electricians, cosmetologists, physicians, contractors, and many others—from other states were recognized by our licensing boards. It would not only bring workers to our state, but also their families. Making it easier for professionals to choose Nebraska with universal recognition of their licenses and career experience is an important part of addressing the state’s workforce challenges, and needs the attention of the Legislature in 2023.

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