Indiana Moves to Unwind Barriers to Braiding

It shouldn’t take up to $20,000 and over a year of cosmetology schooling—almost none of which has anything to do with braiding—just to braid hair for a living. Finally, after two decades of imposing such requirements on entrepreneurial Hoosiers, Indiana lawmakers have untangled some of the most onerous red tape in the country.

As a traditional art form, African-style hair braiding is believed to be more than 5,000 years old, and it has a long history throughout the United States. Its primary practitioners today are African immigrants and native black descendants of African slaves. Nicole Barnes-Thomas, who was born and raised in Indianapolis, was just such an artist; she started braiding professionally 20 years ago, when she was 17. She was forced out of her successful braiding job in 1997, when lawmakers decided to impose cosmetology licensing restrictions on hair braiding.

Now, Barnes-Thomas and Republican state Rep. Tim Wesco have lead successful efforts to enact House Bill 1243, which will eliminate unnecessary licensing requirements for braiders. HB 1243 passed both chambers of the Indiana General Assembly last week and will now head to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk for his signature.

“I am thrilled about the passage of HB 1243, deregulating hair braiding, for all the opportunities it will afford to women across the state,” said Rep. Wesco, the bill’s author and original sponsor. “I believe there is great potential for people to be able to earn additional income and use skills they already have to support their families. And they are now free to do so.”

Once the new law takes effect, Barnes-Thomas plans to restart her successful braiding business without the threats of recurring $500 fines and a misdemeanor charge for braiding without a license. She aims to open a salon to offer services and train new braiders in the Broad Ripple community near Butler University in her native Indianapolis.

“I’m excited to see progress on this jobs bill that will allow hair braiders to start their own businesses to take care of their families and themselves,” said Barnes-Thomas, who testified in favor of HB 1243. “The bottom line is that braiders in Indiana should be free to work, just like in Kentucky and 20 other states.”

Natural hair braiding is a remarkably safe profession with a large base of satisfied customers. According to the “Barrier to Braiding” report from the Institute for Justice (IJ), complaints against braiders are so rare that a person is 2.5 times more likely to get audited by the IRS than a licensed or registered braider is to receive a complaint of any kind. In fact, the vanishingly few complaints braiders do receive are almost never filed by a customer.

Twenty-one states, from South Dakota to Texas, have already deregulated braiding, many with prodding from IJ, which has model legislation on the issue. Three more—New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Missouri (where IJ is challenging braiding restrictions in court)—could soon follow suit. Indiana is now poised to join those 21 states and let Hoosiers braiders braid.

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