LINCOLN — Nebraska would take aim at what many see as overly burdensome occupational licensing laws under a bill given first-round approval Wednesday.

Legislative Bill 299, introduced by State Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete, advanced on a 31-0 vote after lawmakers adopted a compromise amendment.

Ebke said the measure would reduce red tape and make it easier for Nebraskans to get into the occupation of their choice.

“The goal is to make it easier for people to work hard and make a living,” she said.

LB 299 is part of a push by some groups, including the Omaha-based Platte Institute, to reduce regulations that they say unnecessarily hamper economic activity.

State-issued licenses are required for about 200 occupations in Nebraska involving 24 percent of Nebraska workers. Affected jobs include medical doctor and potato shipper.

On LB 299, the Platte Institute joined forces with the ACLU of Nebraska, which wants to open doors for people with previous criminal convictions.

The bill, as amended, says that occupational regulations should “increase economic opportunities, promote competition, and encourage innovation.”

It would make it state policy to use the least restrictive regulation needed to protect consumers from significant harms that clearly threaten their health, safety or welfare. The options for providing that protection would range from market competition up to requiring licensure.

In addition, LB 299 would require reviews every five years of all licensing laws and regulations governing various occupations in the state. The reviews would be done by legislative committees with oversight of the relevant area.

It also would set up a process by which people with criminal convictions could ask whether their background would bar them from getting a particular type of license.

Ebke said the process would help people learn whether they can qualify for a license before undergoing training, rather than waiting until they finish training.

Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha said the reviews would be useful because technology can change the picture. He noted that any changes recommended would have to be approved by the Legislature or go through the state’s rule-making procedure.

Other senators took a more cautious approach. Sen. Dan Quick of Grand Island said he has gotten emails from health care providers, engineers and others concerned about the process.

“I want to make sure that, if we do this, we do it the right way,” he said.

The amendment adopted Wednesday accommodated several concerns raised earlier, Ebke said.

It dropped the idea of having legislative committees do detailed analyses of proposed occupational licensing laws. It sought to harmonize the LB 299 reviews with an existing process for evaluating changes in the licensing of health care professions.

It also would let licensing boards use their own standards to decide whether people’s criminal histories disqualified them from getting a license.

The original version of LB 299 would have allowed disqualification only under limited circumstances.

Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

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