- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 20, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A bill that would require regular reviews of Nebraska’s job-licensing rules hit a wave of resistance Tuesday from senators who voiced concerns about its impact on medical professions.

Supporters said the measure would reduce regulations and increase competition in a variety of professions that are regulated by the state. In past years, lawmakers have scaled back requirements on natural hair braiders and people who perform horse massages, but the legislation debated Tuesday would take a more sweeping approach.

“Most of us don’t realize and have never realized how many licenses there are,” said Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete the proposal’s sponsor. “In the last 50 years, we’ve gone from roughly 5 percent of our occupations being licensed to roughly 25 percent of our occupations being licensed.”

About 200 professions require licenses in Nebraska, ranging from massage therapists and potato shippers to dentists and teachers. Under Ebke’s bill, lawmakers would review regulations once every five years.

The bill also aims to remove barriers to employment for job applicants with a criminal record. Ebke said expanding employment opportunities for such people could prevent them from reoffending.

Opponents took issue with the bill’s wording and questioned whether it should apply to health-related professions, which are currently regulated through another process that generally includes industry professionals.

Sen. Sue Crawford, of Bellevue, took issue with a portion of the bill that would require state officials to err on the side of lighter regulation, particularly in health-related fields. The bill requires the state to use the least restrictive regulation needed to protect against “present, significant and substantiated harms.”

“Someone has to get hurt before we can decide to change occupational licensing standards,” Crawford said.

Crawford also questioned how legislators would determine what constitutes significant level of harm.

Sen. Sarah Howard, of Omaha, said the bill’s focus on economic opportunity and market competition stray from the important standards of health, wellness and safety.

She and Crawford said health-related licenses are better regulated through the current process, which examines licensing at an in-depth level that requires extensive medical knowledge. Lawmakers would need extra help to conduct such reviews, they said.

Ebke noted that the bill would not affect any current license statutes, but instead would set up a process of regular review and create standards for legislators to consider while reviewing occupational licensing.

Health care professionals “ought to be happy to come to the board and the committees and express their surety of how valuable their licenses are,” Ebke said.

It’s unclear whether the measure has enough support to survive, but Ebke said she’s willing to change language as long as it doesn’t undermine the bill’s basic purpose.


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