Laura Ebke of Nebraska is the Libertarian Party’s only sitting state senator. A bill she introduced to reform her state’s occupational licensing regime got an enthusiastic and lengthy write-up this week in The Wall Street Journal (without, alas, naming the senator or her party affiliation).
The Occupational Board Reform Act (L.B. 299) would change the incentive structure and process by which Nebraska decides the most rational and least restrictive way to ensure consumer safety without unduly harming people’s ability to work.
The state has been interested in “chipping away at occupational licenses one by one” for a while, Ebke said in a phone interview yesterday. (For example, last year the state eliminated licensing requirements for hair braiders.) Then last year she “was approached by the Institute for Justice to see if I would be interested in carrying some model legislation they had put together, and I was very interested.”
One of the more colorful case studies, described in the Journal story, involves massaging horses, which leaves you open in Nebraska to a possible four years in jail and a $35,000 fine if you do it unlicensed. That issue, Ebke says, has been “under control of the veterinarians medical licensure,” who had lobbying power. Ebke saw it as a teachable moment: “Does it make sense,” she asked her colleagues, “to demand a license to give a rubdown to a 1,200-pound creature?”
The final vote on the measure is expected next week, and Ebke is confident it will make it to the governor’s desk and be signed. One of her main allies in the process is a Nebraska-based free market think tank, the Platte Institute, founded by the sitting governor Pete Ricketts.
(This article was posted to Reason.com on April 6, 2018, the bill’s progress can be followed here.)
Update April 18, 2018 from Reason.com
Nebraska lawmakers struck a rare tri-partisan blow against onerous occupational licensing laws on the 60th and final day of the 2018 legislative session, voting 45–1 to pass a major reform bill authored by Libertarian state Sen. Laura Ebke.
Ebke’s Occupational Board Reform Act requires state lawmakers to undertake a review of Nebraska’s occupational licensing laws with an eye toward loosening or eliminating requirements that serve as barriers to employment without benefiting public safety. The bill requires that licensing laws “respect the fundamental right of an individual to pursue an occupation” and instructs lawmakers to favor less restrictive forms of regulation—which could include private certification, registration, insurance or bonding requirements, inspections, open market competition, or a combination of these approaches—in circumstances where one-size-fits-all licensing rules violate that right.
“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,” says Jim Vokal, CEO of the Platte Institute, a Nebraska-based think tank.
The bill’s backers included the free-marketeers at the Platte Institute and the licensing reform campaigners at the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm that helped craft the bill. But it also won support across the political spectrum. The Nebraska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sponsored a series of events at locations around the state highlighting the bill’s importance, and the conservatives at the Wall Street Journal editorial page called the bill a “model for licensing reform.”
“We still need the signature of the governor, but we’re optimistic,” Ebke says. Passing with such overwhelming support—including “yes” votes from lawmakers who had opposed the bill at early stages in the legislative process—makes it increasingly likely that Ricketts will sign the bill, she notes. Although it passed with a veto-proof majority, there will not be an opportunity to overturn a veto because the legislative session ends today.