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South Dakota just legalized braiding hair without a license

By Nick Sibilla, Institute for Justice/Forbes

Thanks to legislation signed today, South Dakotans no longer need the government’s permission to braid hair. Signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard, the bill, HB 1048, exempts natural hair braiders from the state’s thicket of cosmetology regulations.

Previously, braiders faced the toughest law in the nation. Before anyone could work twisting or braiding hair, they first had to obtain a cosmetology license. That license requires at least 2,100 hours of training, which can cost nearly $15,000 in tuition. Meanwhile, braiding without a permission slip from the government could lead to fines and even jail time. Adding to the absurdity, many cosmetology schools don’t even teach African-style braiding techniques, and those that do dedicate almost no time to the subject.

“Today’s signature is a win for entrepreneurship, economic liberty and just plain common sense,” noted Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Paul Avelar. “The government has no business licensing something as safe and common as braiding hair.”

Unsurprisingly, strict requirements made it nearly impossible to find qualified braiders who could work legally. Not only did those restrictions harm the African-American and immigrant communities in the Mount Rushmore State, it also affected South Dakotan parents like Ryan Howlett, who adopted a daughter of color. Speaking before the Senate Commerce and Energy Committee last month, Howlett said it was “critically important” to boost the number of natural hair stylists, “so that people aren’t driving six, seven hours to do their hair.”

“This is a safe practice. When we are with our provider, it is her fingers and a squirt bottle,” he added. “There is no cutting, there is no heat, there is no chemical applied to the hair, and it’s just her twisting and locking the hair.”

Empirical data bears that out. Research published by the Institute for Justice in July found that out of over 9,700 licensed and registered braiders in nine states and Washington, D.C., over a seven year period, only 95 of them had a complaint file. And only one braider had a complaint filed by a consumer.

Given that braiding hair is safe, HB 1048 sailed through the state legislature, and even passed the Senate unanimously. South Dakota is now the 21st state to deregulate hair braiding, and the very first state to do so this year. In another six states, more reforms are pending, or are expected to be introduced.

“This victory for braiders in South Dakota is another blow against occupational licensing, America’s biggest labor-economics issue,” said Lee McGrath, IJ’s Senior Legislative Counsel, and who testified in favor of the bill.

More than a quarter of South Dakota’s workforce is either licensed or certified by the government. By comparison, over five percent of workers are union members, while just 2.4 percent of hourly workers are paid at or below minimum wage.

Many licenses, especially for working-class South Dakotans, can be particularly onerous. A report by the Institute for Justice found that the average license in the Mount Rushmore State requires workers to complete 271 days of training, pay $166 in fees and pass two exams.

On the bright side, that leaves ample opportunity for reform. According to the Heritage Foundation, overhauling the state’s licensing laws could save the average South Dakota household $777 each year.

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