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Untangling Hair Braiders From Iowa’s Irrational Licensing Laws

Iowa’s licensing laws are among the worst in the nation. From athletic trainers to travel agents to makeup artists, Iowa licenses a larger share of its workers than any other state. It is no surprise then that when it comes to African-style hair braiders, Iowa has the most burdensome licensing laws in the nation.

Liberty & Law readers are familiar with IJ’s almost 25-year history of leading the fight for braiding freedom and know that we have proven time and time again that hair braiding regulations are onerous. African-style hair braiding is safe and common. It is completely natural and does not involve chemicals, heat or other artificial styling techniques.

But before braiders may braid hair for a living in Iowa, they must first obtain a cosmetology license, which requires 2,100 hours of irrelevant training that can cost as much as $22,000. This training teaches braiders nothing about hair braiding and forces them to waste time and money learning skills that they will never use in their career.

Enter IJ. We teamed up with Aicheria Bell and Achan Agit, hair braiders in Des Moines, to challenge the law in state court.

Aicheria is a single mom who has been braiding hair most of her life. She first learned to braid hair from her mother at age 3. She wants to open her own braiding salon and school in Iowa, but she cannot afford to take time away from working and raising her daughter to spend thousands of dollars for training that is completely irrelevant to her trade.

Achan fled the region of war-torn Sudan that is now South Sudan. Like Aicheria, she too has been braiding hair since she was a child. Throughout her life (until moving to Iowa), Achan has relied on hair braiding to support herself and her family. She wants to open her own braiding salon, but in Iowa she is forced to braid hair out of her home. She works in fear that the state will one day shut her down and she will lose her livelihood.

The government cannot license something as safe and common as hair braiding. As long as these irrational licensing laws stand, IJ will fight tirelessly to protect the right of braiding entrepreneurs to provide for themselves and their families through honest work. As The Des Moines Register editorialized the day we filed the lawsuit, “These women are among the thousands of victims of Iowa’s job licensing laws. Now the state of Iowa will be forced to defend these bad laws. And if this case goes to court, the state will likely lose. The Institute for Justice has sued numerous states over their hair-braiding laws. In every resolved case, the judge either declared the challenged law unconstitutional or the lawsuit prompted a change in state law before a ruling.”

But this case is not just about hair braiding. Our braiding litigation also helps pave the way for all workers who are affected by burdensome and irrational occupational licensing laws. A victory here will help protect the ability of Aicheria, Achan and all Iowa entrepreneurs to turn their American dreams into reality.

Meagan Forbes is an IJ attorney.

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