IJ Wins for Economic Liberty in State Legislatures

“No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session,” the lawyer Gideon Tucker once quipped. Alas, Tucker never had a chance to meet IJ’s legislative team, which continues, against long odds, to notch major wins for individual liberty in statehouses across the country.

Braiding freedom continues to spread nationwide. Rhode Island and North Dakota both eliminated licensing laws for African-style natural hair braiders. Previously, braiders had to finish 1,200 hours of hairdressing courses and 1,800 hours of cosmetology training before they could legally earn a living, even though those classes were completely irrelevant to hair braiding. As part of its reform, North Dakota also exempted eyebrow threaders from licensure. Meanwhile, Minnesota was the first state to repeal its specialty braiding license, capping a 14-year-long battle that began when IJ sued the state back in 2005. Today, braiders are free to work without a government permission slip in 28 states.

Thanks to IJ’s efforts, several states also significantly eased restrictions on “cottage food” producers, making it possible for home bakers to sell cookies, cakes, jams, and other shelf-stable, homemade food without a permit or the need to rent commercial kitchen space. Nebraska let home bakers sell from home and take online orders, while West Virginia went even further and allowed cottage food businesses to sell through grocery stores and other retail outlets, greatly expanding economic opportunity in the Mountain State.

In Texas, cottage food producers can finally sell canned foods (like salsa) as well as any type of pickled fruit or vegetable. Prior to reform, an absurd regulation only allowed Texans to sell pickled cucumbers, while prohibiting the sale of other pickled vegetables.

And sometimes, the best offense is a good defense. North Dakota currently has a food freedom law that lets residents sell almost any homemade food, aside from raw dairy and red meat, without any licensing or inspection requirements. But the state Department of Health has repeatedly tried to gut the food freedom law by proposing legislation that would place onerous restrictions on producers, citing concern for public health. This spring, IJ testified against the department’s proposed bill, pointing out that there has not been a single reported illness from a food freedom business. We successfully defeated that bill, but now the Department is trying to gut the program through administrative rule-making. IJ will be there to preserve the freedom North Dakota producers and consumers currently enjoy.

Meanwhile, to promote economic opportunity and facilitate reentry for ex-offenders, North Carolina enacted a sweeping reform that eliminates licensing barriers for people with criminal records—without jeopardizing public safety. Based on IJ’s model legislation, licensing boards in the Tarheel State can only deny licenses if someone’s criminal record is “directly related” to the license sought. Nor can boards disqualify applicants based on their supposed “moral turpitude,” a vague and arbitrary standard that has nothing to do with public health and safety.

Likewise, Florida removed obstacles that prevent ex-offenders from becoming licensed barbers, cosmetologists, and construction contractors, which are some of the most common types of employment for people with criminal records. In both states, applicants can petition licensing boards to see if their criminal record would be disqualifying before they begin taking any expensive and time-consuming required courses.

During the 2019 session, IJ worked on approximately 90 pieces of legislation at the state and federal levels, and we’re planning for even more real-world results in 2020.

Nick Sibilla is an IJ writer and legislative analyst.

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