Over 170 jobs require a license in Nebraska. The state will soon recognize some earned elsewhere.

Professionals licensed in another state must earn Nebraska credentials regardless of experience. That is about to change for some of those jobs.

When their first child was born with serious disabilities, Nick Smith and his wife Desiree moved to Nebraska to live closer to family.

Originally from Holdrege, Smith went to school and met his wife in Texas. Both were licensed teachers with four years of classroom experience. None of that mattered when they moved to Nebraska in 2021.

“I knew that there were going to be some initial roadblocks moving back,” Smith said. “I didn’t think that it would be as big of an obstacle as it has become.”

The State of Nebraska didn’t recognize his out-of-state teaching credentials. After two years of failed lobbying efforts, Smith begrudgingly chose to start the process for getting his Nebraska teacher license – at his own expense.

Now that may no longer be necessary.

Following years of stalled attempts, the Nebraska Legislature approved a bill recognizing certain out-of-state licenses. It passed with near-unanimous support, thanks largely to the bill’s marrying of causes that conservatives and liberals could get behind.

In addition to the licensing reforms, Legislative Bill 16 also provides pathways for those with military experience and opportunities for individuals with criminal records to be workforce eligible.

“Nebraska has a mass incarceration issue. We also have a workforce challenge. So the more that we can do to address those really big public policy problems that impact our economy and our society, through common sense solutions, the better it is for all Nebraskans,” said Sen. Danielle Conrad, who shepherded the bill across the finish line.

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Nebraska was ranked the 22nd most burdensome state in the country for licensing barriers in 2023, according to the Archbridge Institute, a public policy think tank based in Washington, D.C. Kansas was the least burdensome state.

In Nebraska, more than 170 occupations require some form of licensure, according to a 2021 Nebraska Department of Labor report

Requirements vary based on the job. Jockeys, for example, must pass a physical exam and pay a fee each year. Court reporters need 30 hours of continuing education every three years.

The purpose of licensing is to protect the public’s health and safety, but it’s become a barrier to qualified individuals, said Laura Ebke, a senior policy expert at the Platte Institute.

Laura Ebke

“Just because you cross state lines doesn’t mean you lose your skills,” she said. 

Ebke, a former state lawmaker, helped jumpstart occupational licensing reform in Nebraska with a bill passed in 2018 that, among other things, requires the state to evaluate the effectiveness of all licenses every five years.

Several licenses have been eliminated as a result, including those required to be a locksmith or massage horses. 

“Licensing boards have become gatekeepers for who can enter the profession,” said Ebke. 

Nebraska is now the 23rd state to start recognizing out-of-state licenses, reflecting a broader movement across the country. Ebke successfully worked on a similar law in Iowa in 2020. The goal, she said, is to reduce bureaucracy and make it easier for people to work. 

More than 8,000 new professional licenses have been granted in Arizona since the state passed a similar law in 2019, according to Common Sense Institute Arizona, a think tank focused on free market policies. It found no evidence that the law caused a jump in malpractice or lessened the quality of services.

“We can learn from our sister states’ experience that when they moved in that direction, they had positive impacts and the sky didn’t fall,” said Conrad. 

Conrad, a Democrat from Lincoln, picked up the proposal from former Sen. Tom Briese, a Republican who introduced the bill in 2023. She made it her priority bill, improving the odds that lawmakers would vote on it this legislative session. 

Conrad had previously worked on mass incarceration, racial injustice and second-chance employment issues when she was executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska.

State Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln made Legislative Bill 16 her priority legislation for the recent session. The bill, which was signed by Gov. Jim Pillen in March, recognizes certain out-of-state licenses and provides pathways for those with military experience and opportunities for individuals with criminal records. Photo courtesy of the Nebraska Legislature

“It was an issue that had just simply languished for too many years,” she said. “Even though it had really broad support across the political spectrum, it never quite received the rocket fuel that comes with a priority designation.”

The new law provides clarity on what criminal convictions make a person ineligible for certain jobs, said Jasmine Harris, director of public policy and advocacy at RISE, a nonprofit reentry program that prepares incarcerated individuals for the workforce. 

Previously there was no list, she said, which created confusion for people like Alana Alexander.

Alexander left prison with over 40 workforce certificates, all of which “were pretty worthless out in the real world,” she said in testimony supporting a bill later folded into LB 16.

In prison, Alexander was an electrician, a personal fitness trainer and yoga instructor. Once released, she ran into roadblocks while trying to work in those professions. She enrolled at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, not knowing that she would still be ineligible to work as a felon, Harris said. 

Alexander eventually left Nebraska and moved to Florida.

The RISE reentry program can now help direct inmates toward careers that they won’t be barred from because of their conviction.

Jasmine Harris

“I’ve always said that we have to do policy too, because these are barriers that have been baked into laws and policies within businesses, industries,” Harris said. “You can’t program yourself out of a situation that a program didn’t start.”

Evidence shows that employment is a successful pathway to preventing recidivism – people returning to prison after incarceration. Harris said that is why RISE testified in support of LB 16. 

Employers are not obligated to hire a former prisoner or any other person just because they have a license, Conrad noted. 

Representatives from the Nebraska Medical Association, the American Massage Therapy Association Nebraska Chapter and the Nebraska Veterinary Medical Association testified against the bill earlier this year. 

They worried about lowering standards of care and cautioned that some occupations have drastically different requirements from state to state.

For example, Nebraska requires 1,000 hours of massage therapy education before granting an occupational license. Kansas requires 625. 

None of the organizations in opposition responded to requests for comment.

Conrad said the bill “removes the governmental burden, but it also ensures that private businesses or even public employers are empowered to still pick the right person for the job.” 

Nick Smith took a job at Spreetail while he tried to navigate his return to teaching. He now has a temporary teaching license, but continues to take required online courses through Wayne State University. Desiree is pursuing a master’s degree in orientation and mobility teaching at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The process has taken a toll on their daily lives – financially and emotionally.

“When I get home, I have to do classes and the same thing with my wife,” Smith said, adding that they usually have to split up parenting duties. “Teachers don’t make a lot of money so it has not helped our financial situation.”

Smith was staring at another year and a half of courses – and tuition – before he could be officially licensed to do the job he did for four years in Texas. 

“I’m hoping though, that this law changes that.”

By Naomi Delkamiller

Naomi Delkamiller is a junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln studying journalism and public relations with a minor in digital humanities. Previously, she was a News21 investigative journalism fellow where she worked under a team of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism leaders and editors to produce the in-depth multimedia project "America After Roe." Upon graduation in May of 2025, Delkamiller hopes to continue using emerging media techniques to investigate and document complex topics.


Hi Naomi,
A very good and balanced article, except it would have been helpful to read which of the 170 occupations this applies to. Or at least a link or reference to where that information could be found.

Excellent article as I’ve have heard this complaint for years.
As a retired teacher this could help the shortage in education at all levels!
I also have a friend who is. Trying to find work as a former felon, not easy!
Thanks for shedding light on the subject!
Joe Gregory
(Also a friend of your wonderful father at Sacred Heart)

Well done. As a teacher, I still want to know what courses he still needed to take to teach. What does Texas NOT require that Nebraska does? More pedagogy or was in subject content?



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