Lawsuits Led to Licensing Reform, but More Work is Needed

By Aaron Rice
April 22, 2021

You may have never had your eyebrows threaded, or your eyelashes extended, or makeup applied to your face. So why should you care that Governor Reeves signed legislation a few weeks ago that allows people to provide those services without being licensed?

Licensure laws may not seem like a pressing issue, but overregulation of the service industry is causing real harm in our state.

Excessive licensing laws have cost the state an estimated 13,000 jobs. That means we could add almost three times as many workers as the Nissan plant employs simply by eliminating unnecessary laws, and it wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime.

The costs of excessive licensing fall disproportionately on the poor, minorities, and young people looking to get their start in life.

Unfortunately, eliminating unnecessary licenses is easier said than done. These exemptions were carved out only after brave business owners sued or threatened to sue the state for their right to work.

One of those lawsuits was filed by Dipa Bhattarai, an international student. She has been threading – removing stray hair by using a twisted cotton thread – for most of her life. It is a safe and common technique that originated in South Asian countries like her home country of Nepal.

Dipa saw an opportunity to pursue her version of the American Dream, and opened Deeva Brows and Beauty, a threading studio with locations in Columbus and Starkville.

Then the cosmetology board – our state’s eyebrow police – forced her to shut down. You see, she had not paid thousands of dollars to take 600 hours’ worth of classes to get a license. The kicker? The required classes don’t even teach anything about eyebrow threading.

Dipa partnered with the Mississippi Justice Institute (“MJI”), a nonprofit, constitutional litigation center that I work for, to challenge the constitutionality of the law. Ultimately, the state decided to back down and repeal the law rather than keep defending it in court.

But the cosmetology board continued trying to shut down other niche beauty businesses. This time, they sent the eyelash police after Amy Burks, who owns Lavish, an eyelash extension lounge in Madison.

Eyelash extensions are available for purchase in self-adhesive strips at most retail outlets. However, in recent years many customers have started paying lash technicians to apply individual false eyelashes, which results in a more natural look. This is a time-consuming and tedious process, but it is safe and easy to learn.

Mississippi law does not specifically require a license for lash technicians, but that did not stop the cosmetology board from interpreting the law to allow them to demand a license anyway.

Again, there is a kicker. If you guessed that the required classes don’t even teach anything about eyelash extensions, you are catching on.

After seven years of safely and openly running her business, Amy was issued a citation for operating an unlicensed salon.

Amy also teamed up with MJI, which sent a letter to the board threatening to file another lawsuit. The state again decided it would rather amend the law than face litigation.

It took yet another lawsuit to clear the way for Mississippians to apply makeup without a license, even though hundreds of millions of people apply makeup every day without formal training.

After years of honing her skills, Karrece Stewart started Get Glam Beauty, a makeup business in Fulton. She teaches makeup techniques and wants to be able to apply makeup for clients as well. But that would require a license.

Makeup is a very small component of the required training, which is primarily focused on skincare and hair removal. And given that applying makeup is not dangerous, this coursework is not needed to prevent any real harms.

Karrece filed her own lawsuit, this time retaining a private law firm that was willing to help her for free. And the pattern continued. Rather than defend the indefensible, the state decided to change the law.

This year’s exemptions are not the first time Mississippi has had to amend its cosmetology laws in response to litigation. In 2005, the state delicensed African-style hair braiding after Tupelo resident Melony Armstrong filed a lawsuit.

It’s encouraging to see the little guy – or in these cases, the little gal – fight back and win. But these small changes required litigation and front page news stories. Most victims of government overregulation suffer in silence. Mississippi’s elected leaders should continue to seek ways to eliminate excessive licensing laws that keep the American Dream out of reach for so many.

This opinion piece by Aaron Rice, Director of the Mississippi Justice Institute, originally appeared in the Clarion Ledger.


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