- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 20, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska lawmakers moved one step closer to removing licensing restrictions for horse massage therapists as they advanced the bill with significant support.

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte said Tuesday the bill would replace burdensome licensing requirements with a registry and certification process. He said it will create career opportunities for rural Nebraskans and provide horses with necessary treatment.

There are no licensed horse massage therapists in Nebraska currently, which Groene said is because of the strict licensing requirements. To become licensed, an individual must first qualify as a veterinarian or human massage therapist, which requires 1,000 hours of training. In addition, 150 hours of animal therapy courses are required, but the courses are not offered at any school in the state.

Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln said the licensing barriers have prevented her friend from opening a business and have made it difficult for her to find someone to massage her horses.

“It’s time that Nebraska ponies up on this issue,” she said.

The bill is part of a broader nationwide push to reduce occupational licensing requirements that have increased over the last 60 years. In 1950, one out of every 20 jobs was licensed, but today one out of every four professions requires a license, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Nebraska has nearly 200 professions that require a license, ranging from potato shippers to doctors. On average, the National Council of State Legislatures found states have about 90 licenses. Four states do not require licenses for human massage therapy.

Many senators said the bill does not go far enough to reduce regulations. Sen. John Kuehn, a veterinarian from Heartwell, said it’s unreasonable to regulate horse massage therapists when farriers, who nail horseshoes into horses’ feet, are unregulated.

Requiring licensing or certification is “just good old-fashioned protectionism,” he said. “The survival of the species that we’re worried about is market share for veterinarians.”

Opponents said the penalty for noncompliance, a felony charge, is too severe. Groene said he is willing to work on changes to reduce the punishment before the bill is debated again.

The bill advanced 38-0 to the second of three required votes.

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