Nebraska untangles excessive licensing laws for hair braiding

Eric Boehm
Posted: Mar 09, 2016 10:43 AM
Nebraska untangles excessive licensing laws for hair braiding

Hair braiding in Nebraska will no longer require a cosmetology license, if Gov. Pete Ricketts signs a bill passed by the state legislature last week.

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UNTANGLED: Hair braiders in Nebraska will no longer have to get a high school diploma or pay more than $20,000 to attend cosmetology schools.

The state requires 490 days of schooling to become a licensed cosmetologist. Students have to learn how to apply makeup, style and color hair and must pass a licensing exam to become a licensed cosmetologist.

Hair-braiding is barely taught in most cosmetology schools, but anyone wanting to make a few dollars by braiding hair – a practice most common in African-American communities, where traditional hair-braiding has been taught for centuries – has to go through the cosmetology licensing process.

Those 2,100 hours of training can cost as much as $20,000 in tuition and fees. Getting licensed also requires a high school diploma or GED, as if passing algebra was essential to understanding how to braid hair.

To put it simply, this is ridiculous,” said Jessica Herrmann, director of legislative outreach for the Platte Institute of Economic Research. “Hair braiders must not only obtain permission from the government, but also spend thousands of dollars on course instruction on coloring, men and women’s cutting, waxing, home creative skills, skin and spa services and chemistry. This burdensome regulation creates a huge financial barrier to entry for this new class of entrepreneurs.”

But skipping that lengthy and expensive process means facing the potential penalties for being an unlicensed cosmetologist. Those include fines of up to $25,000 and the potential of four years in prison.

Hair braiders won’t have to worry about those punishments after July 1 if the new rules take effect. Hair braiding, along with the application of hair extensions and topical treatments like shampoos and conditioners, will no longer require any sort of license in Nebraska.

The bill’s passage “will help small, mostly minority, owned businesses by removing an unfair and expensive barrier to their efforts and success,” said state Sen. Nicole Fox, R-Lincoln, who introduced the measure.

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SEN. NICOLE FOX: Says the bill will help small, mostly minority owned businesses by scrapping necessary licensing rules.

The bill passed on a 42-0 vote, with six senators not voting. Ricketts has voiced support for the legislation, Fox said.

Lawmakers in Nebraska may have been keeping an eye on the ongoing fight in neighboring Iowa over the hair braiding issue. Iowa’s licensing laws also require 2,100 hours of cosmetology training for hair braiders, but the state is facing a lawsuit over those requirements.

READ MORE: Hair braiders tangle with Iowa bureaucrats in lawsuit challenging excessive regulations

As Watchdog has reported, the two plaintiffs in that lawsuit are African-American women who have been prevented from starting businesses by the onerous licensing rules.

One of them, Achan Agit, came to the United States as a refugee from Sudan in 2004. Though she’s been braiding hair in the African tradition since she was five years old, her lack of a high school diploma means she cannot be licensed to work in Iowa.

These types of licensing schemes are getting more attention in state legislatures this year, not just because of the threat of lawsuits.

The White House issued a report last year urging state and local governments to loosen licensing requirements and cut red tape to open employment opportunities. The report noted that the number of jobs requiring an occupational license has grown five-fold since the 1950s and argued that licensing schemes disproportionately affect the poor, who are probably less likely to spend time and money on licenses.

In Nebraska, it seems, state lawmakers were listening.