Update: Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts signed the bill into law on April 23, 2018.
A bill to review Nebraska’s occupational licensing laws and to remove employment barriers for workers with conviction histories has earned final approval in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.
State Sen. Laura Ebke’s Legislative Bill 299 passed with 45 votes in support and only one vote against. With that overwhelming tally, this policy may sound like a slam dunk, but LB299 overcame several near-failures before passing, during more than a year of tough opposition from industry and government groups.
Also known as the Occupational Board Reform Act, the bill is based on model legislation created by the Institute for Justice. It requires legislative committees to review 20 percent of licenses under their purview a year, in a continuous five-year cycle. This process creates a framework for identifying less restrictive regulations, including private certification, registration, insurance or bonding requirements, inspections, open market competition, or a combination of these approaches.
Workers with conviction histories could also receive an advisory opinion from state licensing boards about their eligibility to work in a licensed profession prior to beginning a training program.
While piecemeal occupational licensing changes have passed in the Nebraska Legislature before, reforms of more burdensome licenses have had trouble advancing from committee. That motivated the Platte Institute to educate lawmakers about the need for a more comprehensive approach.
The Platte Institute testified in support of LB299 in a 2017 legislative hearing and began a non-traditional coalition campaign based around creating a “Pathway to a Paycheck” for more Nebraskans.
By partnering with groups concerned about both the economic freedom and equity issues impacted by job licensing laws, LB299 received important air support from groups including the Institute for Justice, the ACLU of Nebraska, the Foundation for Government Accountability, Americans for Prosperity-Nebraska, and Nebraska Appleseed, a progressive group.
The ACLU of Nebraska joined the Platte Institute for a set of town halls on LB299, and worked closely in the amendment drafting process to advance the model legislation in a way that fit Nebraska’s needs.
State and national media, including the Wall Street Journal editorial board, took note of this collaboration, with that newspaper calling LB299 a model for job licensing reform.
Following this effort, Platte Institute statewide polling on the policy idea behind LB299 found 62% of Nebraskans supported a regular job licensing review, including strong majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents.
The dual approach of cutting red tape and reducing recidivism translated into tri–partisan support for LB299 in the Nebraska Legislature. Sen. Ebke, a registered Libertarian, was joined in co-sponsorship by Republican Sens. John McCollister, Tom Brewer, Dan Watermeier, Mark Kolterman, John Stinner, Brett Lindstrom, Tom Briese, and John Lowe and Democratic Sen. Justin Wayne.
Health and Human Services Committee members Sen. Sue Crawford and Sen. Sara Howard, both registered Democrats, also assisted Sen. Ebke with amendments that enabled the bill to reach final passage.
“LB299 was one of the Platte Institute’s top priorities in the 2018 legislative session, because it will help give power back to Nebraskans to cut the hidden tax of red tape that is creating barriers for working people across our state,” said Jim Vokal, Chief Executive Officer of the Platte Institute.
But the real work is only beginning. Now, the Platte Institute will educate lawmakers and legislative staff about how to use “the LB299 process” as it’s already been called, to remove barriers to economic growth and opportunitynand work to set an example that can be adopted by other states.
“While passing this legislation is just the first of many steps, we are eager for lawmakers to begin this important five-year review process,” said Vokal.
Adam Weinberg is the Communications and Outreach Director at the Platte Institute.