Nebraska has made progress in recent years in reducing excessive occupational licensing requirements that posed significant barriers to employment. This sensible reform has had broad agreement among state policymakers as they work to expand opportunity for Nebraskans and promote economic efficiency and growth.
Occupational licensing is appropriate in cases where public health and safety need to be protected and particular levels of professional expertise are necessary. But over the decades here and nationally, such licensing has gotten out of hand. In 1960, Nebraska licensed about 5% of occupations in the state. By last year, the figure had climbed to almost 20% — nearly 200 occupations.
This proliferation of mandates has created obstacles for people moving from state to state; military spouses are a key example. In many cases it’s prevented people from entering an occupation due to excessive requirements or entry costs. At the national level, both the Obama and Trump administrations have recognized this problem and pressed for change.
Nebraska has commendably been a leader on the issue. Last year, for example, the Legislature approved Legislative Bill 77 by State Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg. The bill made measured reductions in the experience hours and postsecondary educational requirements to become a licensed real estate appraiser. That profession’s governing board contributed well to the effort.
Lawmakers also said “yes” to Legislative Bill 12 by State Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue. The bill provides a license fee exemption for military service members or their spouses if the applicant has received a license within the past three years in another jurisdiction.
Nebraska state senators, to their credit, have conducted rigorous flood debate on those and other occupational licensing proposals, often identifying the need for prudent adjustments. It’s been good to see such responsible fine-tuning of legislation.
In an important long-term step, the Legislature has created a process, developed by then-State Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete, to regularly scrutinize the state’s occupational regulations. Under that process, legislative committees review 20% of licenses under their jurisdiction annually, in a continuous five-year cycle.
It’s encouraging that some professional organizations in Nebraska are starting to look at the state’s recent reforms for guidance as they consider proposals for occupational regulation. Interior designers, for example, worked with State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha and the Platte Institute, a think tank active on occupational licensing, in developing Legislative Bill 1068 now before the Legislature.
Encouraging, too, are efforts to promote further interstate agreements on this issue. Legislative Bill 1187 by State Sen. Andrew La Grone of Gretna, now before the Legislature, promotes that goal.
Nebraska has been a notable leader in working to bolster opportunity by removing unnecessary licensing requirements. State leaders can continue to serve the public interest by building on that commendable foundation.