Regional News

LINCOLN — Karen Hough of Arnold and Dawn Hatcher of Columbus are the winners of the Platte Institute’s 2019 Connie Brown Freedom Award.

The award is presented annually at the Platte Institute Legislative Summit to Nebraskans who take action to remove barriers to opportunity.

A video highlighting Hough and Hatcher’s stories can be seen below:

Hough and Hatcher, both lifelong horse enthusiasts, became advocates for Sen. Mike Groene’s Legislative Bill 596 in 2018 after facing obstacles to running their own small businesses providing massage services for horses and other equines.

When it become law, LB 596 removed a state job licensing requirement for practicing massage on equines, along with dogs and cats. While the bill was a subject of ridicule at times, the issue gained national media attention for putting a spotlight on the need to scrutinize excessive state licensing laws in Nebraska and the rest of the country.

The same year, Nebraska become one of the first states to require a comprehensive review of all of its job licensing laws, which is now underway.

Hough become involved in advocating for licensing reform after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. For years, she provided inexpensive equine massage for youth competition horses on her property in Arnold. But the letter she received claimed she was in violation of state veterinary law, which could result in penalties including up to 20 years in prison or a $25,000 fine.

“My customers were really angry that the state of Nebraska was telling them who they could hire to massage their horses,” said Hough.

“In a time where roads could be fixed and schools could be improved, the government is wasting money chasing equine massage therapists,” Hough told NBC Nebraska at the time the issue was being considered by the Legislature.

Hatcher previously looked into starting a licensed equine massage business in northeast Nebraska, but found the process too costly and time-consuming.

Before the passage of LB 596, Nebraska had no licensed equine massage practitioners. One reason may have been that previous law required independently practicing providers to earn two occupational licenses, both as a licensed human massage therapist, and a separate license for providing animal therapy.

Nebraska has one of the country’s most restrictive massage therapy licensing laws. Students must take 1,000 hours of classroom training at a licensed school, where tuition can cost $15,000 or more. Most states that have licensing laws require 500-700 hours of training.

Hatcher told the Columbus Telegram that passage of LB 596 “was the first door that needed to be opened for me to pursue really what’s been a dream of having a business and working with horses.”

Hatcher has since completed a certification program in equine massage and has opened her business, Peak Performance Equine Bodywork. She has developed her client base in her community, on social media and at Nebraska’s many equestrian events.

“Karen and Dawn showed great dedication not only to working through a legislative process that was new to them, but in making the most of the opportunities now afforded by Nebraska’s job licensing reforms,” said Jim Vokal, chief executive officer of the Platte Institute.

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