All over the country, governors used executive orders to reduce health care licensing restrictions in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Regulatory changes included waiving fees, granting recognition of out-of-state medical personnel licenses, allowing immediate licensure for students who had not quite completed their clinical program, and waiving certain testing requirements for nursing assistants.
This temporary rollback doesn’t stop with professional licensing, though. Nebraska and other states lifted regulations on “carry-out mixed drinks” and curbside food pickup. Extra raw products and supplies (like eggs, milk, flour or toilet paper) that restaurants have on hand can be sold to customers, providing the businesses an outlet for items that might have gone to waste, or which have no immediate use in the current business environment.
These measures are noteworthy because while regulation of business activity and occupations has traditionally been justified as a means of protecting the public “health, safety, and welfare,” in a pandemic, policymakers recognized that some restrictions could actually endanger the public’s health and economic well-being.
It’s more important than ever for policymakers to have the tools to discern when regulations serve the public interest, or if they create unnecessary barriers to job creation or providing goods and services. Estimates by economists Ernie Goss and Scott Strain suggest that nearly 100,000 Nebraskans lost their jobs by early April alone.
One advantage Nebraska has in the economic recovery is that the Legislature has already taken on efforts to scrutinize laws impacting job creation. In addition to recent reforms lessening barriers to entry in about 20 different career fields, lawmakers have also affirmed the right of Nebraskans to earn an honest living through the state’s Occupational Board Reform Act, which requires a regular review of all state job licensing laws.
We all hope that a “return to normal” is coming soon. But instead of settling for returning to the old regulatory environment when executive orders are lifted, perhaps we should be looking toward legislation which will rid us permanently of the rules and laws that were identified as hindrances during the emergency.
Specifically, there are two areas where lawmakers can continue to make progress.
First, expand the temporary recognition of out-of-state licenses for medical personnel to Universal Recognition of licenses, or substantial career experience, for all licensed occupations.
Governors around the nation did this for medical personnel because it allowed for flexibility and response to an immediate need. In the economic emergency that has followed the pandemic, the same types of needs exist throughout our workforce.
Just as the skills of medical personnel aren’t dependent on their state of origin, a cosmetologist, electrician, or plumber doesn’t lose their skills when they move from another state to ours. Unless there are demonstrable jurisdiction-specific differences, we should accept a license from one state for license-eligibility in our state.
Enabling Universal Recognition of licenses for these workers and entrepreneurs can spur the creation of new firms, provide more services where they are most needed, and create new jobs.
Second, the lifting of hospitality industry regulations—including “carry-out” alcohol and the ability to sell excess raw products—should be continued. With the in-house service capacity of restaurants likely to remain restricted, we should encourage practices which allow these employers to safely provide as much of the full dining experience to their clientele as possible.
In a time of social distancing, some new regulations Nebraskans are encountering in daily life are truly a necessity for public health and safety, but the economic road back from COVID-19 will still be tough on many. By repealing regulations that didn’t make sense, even during a public health crisis, government can get out of the way and not make things tougher.