Illinois should strive for better marks on hair-braiding regulations - Liberty Justice Center

Illinois should strive for better marks on hair-braiding regulations

The state of Illinois received a near-failing grade for the quality of its natural-hair-braiding licensing rules, according to a new study released by the Institute for Justice.

The study overviews natural-hair-braiding (a popular beauty practice among African and African-American communities in the U.S.) regulations in every state in the country, ranking each one based on how burdensome the requirements for obtaining a license are. States like Arizona and Michigan received A’s, while Nebraska, South Dakota and others received F’s. Overall, the study criticizes the fact that even though “braiders do not use any chemicals, dyes or coloring agents and do not cut hair,” they’re still forced to go through hundreds of hours of coursework and pay tuition reaching into “thousands of dollars” just for the right to earn a living.

Illinois in particular received a D because it requires 300 hours of training to get a license – and no school in the entire state of Illinois teaches a natural-hair-braiding curriculum that would allow a natural hair braider to comply with the law. Many natural hair braiders who do have the license were grandfathered into the program, and so they do not need to meet the coursework requirement. Anyone found practicing without a license can be fined up to $5,000.

This is a particularly good example of how occupational licensing rules hurt the worst off among us. Natural hair braiders are largely drawn from the African-American community, which has a national unemployment rate that’s twice as high as whites. These high barriers to entry have a real impact on real people.

So what is the appropriate amount of regulation for natural hair braiders? None.

Eleven states currently leave the market completely unregulated.  Eight other states have lighter hour requirements than Illinois. And no states have experienced a public health crisis from rouge hair braiders. It’s more often the case that hairdressers, threatened by competition, push for more regulation on their competitors.

The regulation of natural hair braiding, which poses no genuine threat to public health and safety, violates a fundamental human right protected by our Constitution: the right to earn a living. And judges have recently applied this principle to natural hair braiding.

In 2012, Judge David Sam of the U.S District Court for the District of Utah struck down Utah’s natural-hair-braiding regulations, holding that “the right to work for a living in the common occupations of the community is of the very essence of the personal freedom and opportunity that the Constitution was designed to protect,” and described Utah’s rules as “wholly irrational and a violation of [the plaintiff’s] constitutionally protected rights.” Further lawsuits against natural-hair-braiding regimes are pending in ArkansasWashingtonTexas and Missouri.

It’s hard enough to earn a living without the state getting in the way, especially for the communities that constitute the supply (and demand) of the natural-hair-braiding market. Illinois lawmakers should preempt the lawsuits pending in other states and eliminate the barriers to entry to that market, freeing these entrepreneurs to make a living for themselves.

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