Mississippi has more than 2,600 hair braiders registered to practice their art with the state. And these numbers are only growing. They have more than doubled in the past six years.
Our neighbors to the southwest, Louisiana, as of 2019 had only 19 people who held the permit that is required to braid in the Pelican State. This, despite the fact, that Louisiana has a larger number of African Americans and a larger African immigrant population than Mississippi.
Why is there such a discrepancy?
Louisiana requires hair braiders to receive an “alternative hair design” permit that includes at least 500 hours of classes. And only three schools in the entire state even offer curriculum for that license.
But in Mississippi, Gov. Haley Barbour signed a law that freed the state’s African hair braiders from the irrelevant and unnecessary requirements of the Board of Cosmetology in 2005. Prior to that, hair braiders who wanted to teach others, such as Melony Armstrong, had to spend upwards of 3,200 hours in the classroom to learn cosmetology instructions that didn’t relate to hair braiding.
After the Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit against the Board on behalf of Armstrong, along with Christina Griffin and Margaret Burden, two women who wished to learn hair braiding from Melony and become licensed, the Mississippi legislature responded by freeing hair braiders and exempting them from cosmetology regulations.
And as we have seen, an economic boom has occurred within this profession.
Now, hair braiders only have to pay a $25 registration fee and complete a “self-test” on infection control. And despite what proponents of licensing might offer, even with the repeal of most regulations, there were zero health and safety complaints filed against braiders in Mississippi between 2006 and 2012.
The story of Melony Armstrong has been told many times in the fight for economic liberty, both in Mississippi and throughout the country – deservingly so.
This isn’t much different than the lawsuit we filed in 2019 on behalf of Dipa Bhattarai, an eyebrow threader who is originally from Nepal, where threading is a way of life. Bhattarai was running two successful stores employing four people, while in college, until the state shut her down.
Mississippi law requires eyebrow threaders to take 600 hours of classroom instruction, even though they won’t learn anything about threading in class. Rather, they will just spend thousands of dollars while not being allowed to work.
The cases of Melony Armstrong and Dipa Bhattarai are classic examples of government overreach and licensing boards having the power to regulate – and limit – who can practice within their field.
But as we saw with hair braiders, we can eliminate needless licensing barriers, put people back to work, and help improve the economy for everyone.
The legislature has now taken up legislation that would allow for folks like Dipa and Melony to practice their trade without burdensome licensing barriers. Unfortunately, the bill also seeks to bar unlicensed hair braiders from working in salons, even though they’ve been doing so for years now without any major issues.
There’s no reason to take one step forward and two steps back. Let’s remove unnecessary obstacles to work and not further hinder those who are already successfully working.