Hair Braiding Freedom Act

The Problem

The increase in government licensing has been drastic over the past half-century. In 1950, just one in 20 American workers required a license or certificate to obtain a job. Today, it is estimated that up to 30% of Americans need government permission to earn a living. However, licensing laws are often a patchwork across the various states. In fact, in the Institute for Justice’s study License to Work, of the 102 occupations impacting low- and moderate-income Americans, only 23 require a license in 40 states or more. This shows that many occupations can be regulated to protect consumers’ health or safety without a costly and burdensome license. Surprisingly, Tennessee ranks as the 12th most onerous state for licensing. One major example is hair braiding. In 2016, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kentucky deregulated hair braiding, bringing the number up to 23 states that do not require a license to braid hair. The Tennessee legislature passed a similar reform in 2017 by repealing a law requiring shampooers to be licensed. Yet those seeking to engage in the all-natural practice of hair braiding must still obtain 300 hours of schooling, take a test, and pay a $200 fee to the government in order to earn a living for a skill many have performed since childhood.

The Solution

The Hair Braiding Freedom Act seeks to repeal the burdensome government requirement that an individual must obtain a license from the state cosmetology board in order to legally braid hair.

What the Bill Does

Under the Hair Braiding Freedom Act, the license requirement that an individual must obtain 300 hours of training and pay a fee to the state will be repealed. Braiders do not cut hair, dye hair, use chemicals, nor do they do any other activity that might warrant government oversight. Eliminating this requirement could mean potentially thousands of Tennesseans will have the opportunity to earn a living braiding hair.

Who This Impacts

Debra Nutall was one of the pioneers of the natural hair care movement, opening her first braiding shop in Memphis in the 1990s. She saw the damaging effects many of the cosmetology practices that involved chemicals had on African-American women’s scalps and hair, and she wanted to offer a natural alternative that allowed them to honor their heritage in a style that was neat and stylish. Debra’s styles quickly took off, allowing her to open a shop. Even as a single mother, she was able to quickly transition off government assistance and buy a home. Not only that, but Debra was eager to share her success with her community. Seeing many women in a similar circumstance she had been in, Debra started training other women to braid hair. These women thrived and were also able to transition out of poverty and work in a field they loved. Then, Debra received a notice informing her she was no longer allowed to work. The state cosmetology board had determined that “hair braiding,” a practice that goes back centuries in African culture, even by children, was the practice of cosmetology, and therefore Debra was no longer allowed to work without a cosmetology license. Debra was floored. Braiding does not involve chemicals, scissors, or hot tools. Imposing such onerous hurdles to enter the field makes no sense. Tired of fighting the cosmetology board, Debra left Tennessee. She moved to Mississippi where there was not a license requirement to braid hair, and she started over. Debra has built a successful business there, but it makes her sad when she comes home and sees what could have been. Unable to meet the burden to become licensed hair braiders, and unconvinced that they should have to, many of the women who trained under her have instead gone back to low-paying jobs or resorted back to government assistance. Their version of the American Dream was pulled out from under them. With this legislation, hair braiders like Debra will no longer be required to obtain a costly license to do what they love, restoring their right to earn an honest living.

More Resources

“The Dirty Dozen: Eliminating Red Tape for Blue-Collar Workers.” Beacon Center of Tennessee.

Dirty Dozen

“At What Cost? State and National Estimates of the Economic Costs of Occupational Licensing.” The Institute for Justice. November 2018.

https://ij.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Licensure_Report_WEB.pdf.

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