Ricketts occupational license reforms raise consumer protection question

Gov. Pete Ricketts and advocates of occupational license reform
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January 10, 2017 - 5:42pm

Lots of jobs require you to have a license to do them in Nebraska: everything from being a barber to being an engineer, a teacher, or a potato shipper. Tuesday, Gov. Pete Ricketts proposed reforming requirements for some of those so-called "occupational licenses." Ricketts say that would make it easier for businesses to create jobs and entrepreneurs to get ahead. But a regulator says at least one of the proposals threatens consumer protections.


Flanked by half a dozen state senators who will introduce license reform bills, as well as people in occupations that will be affected, Ricketts talked about the goal of his initiative. "The idea here is that we are looking at ‘What are the barriers that we put up in front of job creators or people who are looking to make changes in their careers or seeking upward mobility? What are the occupational licenses that we put in place that are a barrier to that?’" Ricketts said.

Ricketts then went on to talk about bills that will be proposed to reduce or eliminate licensing requirements for various occupations, including cosmetologists, potato shippers, audiologists, and school bus drivers. Among the proposals is to repeal a requirement for car salespeople to be licensed. Sen. John Lowe of Kearney endorsed the idea. "While I was in college, I sold cars to help with income. We had to buy a salesman’s license to sell cars. It seems a little bit redundant when the dealer already had a license, and I just don’t believe it’s necessary for a salesman to carry a license, and it’s a good one (requirement) just to go away," Lowe said.

Supporting the idea at the news conference was Mickey Anderson, president of Baxter Auto Group, which has 16 dealerships in Nebraska. Anderson said the standards his company has for hiring salespeople are higher than what’s needed to get a $20 license. "The fee for licensing a salesperson, at this point, has become really just a tax for employing a salesperson, and importantly it doesn’t provide any protection for the people of the state of Nebraska," Anderson said.

In his office in the State Office Building a couple of blocks away, Bill Jackson, executive director of the Nebraska Motor Vehicle Industry Licensing Board, said "I disagree with that very strongly. The fact that we license sales people is a protection to the consumer."

That’s Bill Jackson, executive director of the Nebraska Motor Vehicle Licensing Board, the state agency that licenses sales people. Jackson, who answers to a 10-member board appointed by governors to staggered 3-year terms, said he had not heard of the proposal to do away with those licenses before before he was asked about it for this story. "This is the first I’ve heard about it, when you told me about it," he said.

Jackson said most dealers operate honestly. But he said licensing sales people enables his five investigators to go after dishonest sales people. "We chase people that aren’t licensed all the time, that are selling cars out of their house and things like that. And there’s criminal penalties for that. So that helps us keep what we call the ‘curbers’ – the unlicensed people – from doing business," he said.

Jackson said motor vehicle sellers’ licenses have brought about $66,000 into his agency since July 1. If they were eliminated, he said, he would have to lay off an investigator and possibly one of three office positions. Or, he said, he could raise fees for dealer and other licenses.

Regarding school bus licenses, Gov. Ricketts asked "Why do we have a requirement for bus drivers – school bus drivers – to get an additional permit on top of their CDL, the commercial driver’s license …that they already have that also allows them to carry passengers?"

"That’s duplicative," Ricketts added.

The Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles says school bus drivers must pass a criminal background check, maintain a clean driving record, become certified and trained as a school bus driver, take a school bus driver written test, and pass a driving test in a school bus.

Ricketts spokesman Taylor Gage said all those requirements are contained in federal requirements. He said all the reform legislation is proposing is to abolish a duplicative state permit that costs $7.50 and imposes no additional requirements.

 

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