Little Rock, Ark.—With Governor Asa Hutchinson’s signature, the “Natural Hair Braiding Protection Act,” sponsored by Representative Bob Ballinger, is now law in Arkansas. The act exempts hair braiders from having to obtain a cosmetology license and instead creates an optional certification. The Institute for Justice, a national public interest law firm, filed a federal lawsuit against Arkansas’s hair braiding laws and supported the passage of the Natural Hair Braiding Protection Act.
Once the act goes into effect—90 days after the end of the legislative session—IJ will dismiss the pending court case. Previously, hair braiders were forced to spend as much as $20,000 to take 1,500 hours of training that taught nothing about hair braiding. By comparison, EMTs only need 110 hours of training.
In June 2014, IJ teamed up with two Arkansas braiders, Nivea Earl and Christine McLean, to challenge the law that made it impossible for braiders to support themselves and their families.
Nivea Earl is an Arkansas native with a long-held passion for natural hair care. She has been braiding since she was 16 years old. She has attended seminars about natural braiding from nationally recognized experts, and, as a wife and mother of two, wants to provide for her family while pursuing her passion. In February 2013, she started her own natural hair business, Twistykinks. But despite wanting to be an upstanding business woman, Arkansas’s law forced her to operate underground and illegally.
Christine McLean learned how to braid hair as a child in the Ivory Coast. She came to the United States in 1998 and began supporting herself by braiding. After braiding in Florida and Missouri, Christine opened up her own shop in Arkansas but was fined several times—totaling nearly $2,000—because she did not have the irrelevant cosmetology license. Arkansas’s law meant she was unable to continue to run her own business and support herself through her work.
“Now that Arkansas’s law has been fixed, Nivea and Christine can get back to pursuing their American Dreams,” said Erica Smith, an attorney at the Institute for Justice and co-counsel on the lawsuit in Arkansas. “The government has no business licensing something as safe and common as braiding hair. The state’s old law had nothing to do with protecting the public’s health and safety; it just stopped braiders from working.”
The lawsuit is part of IJ’s National Hair Braiding Initiative. The initiative is focused on working with African-style hair braiders across the U.S. to reform burdensome laws that make it difficult for them to work. IJ is currently challenging similar braiding laws in Missouri and Washington state. Washington recently adopted a new rule to clarify that braiders are allowed to practice their craft without a cosmetology license. Missouri, however, continues to fight to subject braiders to a burdensome, irrational cosmetology law.
“Our National Hair Braiding Initiative helps braiders win and keep their economic liberty,” said Paul Avelar, an IJ attorney who is heading up the initiative. “Too many states continue to have laws like Arkansas’s old law. We will continue to work with lawmakers in other states to reform irrational statutes and regulations. But no one should have to bargain with the legislature for the right to earn an honest living, so we will continue to challenge those laws in court as well.”
The National Hair Braiding Initiative is just the most recent effort IJ has made on behalf of braiders across the U.S. IJ has also successfully reformed hair braiding laws in Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio, Texas and Utah.