J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · March 10, 2016

Arlington, Va.–It doesn’t take 2,100 hours of training to know how to braid someone’s hair. But until yesterday, hair braiding in Nebraska without a costly and time-consuming cosmetology license could have subjected a braider to up to three months in jail and $500 in fines for just a first offense. And if a braider kept braiding after being ordered to stop, the penalties escalated to up to four years in jail and $25,000 in fines–a class III felony. Thankfully, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts signed L.B. 898 into law, which exempts hair braiders from the state’s cosmetology license requirements. The law passed the state legislature 42-0, and will go into effect in mid-July.

“This is a victory for economic liberty and the right to earn an honest living in Nebraska,” said IJ Senior Attorney Paul Avelar, who leads IJ’s Braiding Freedom initiative. “The government has no business trying to regulate a skill as common and natural as hair braiding.”

Hair braiding has become a leading example of how occupational licensing laws hamper economic opportunity by creating artificial barriers to entry into many professions. Since the 1950s, the proportion of occupations requiring a license on the state level has risen five-fold. According to Untangling Regulations, a study of hair braiding laws released by the Institute for Justice, Nebraska had one of the most burdensome laws on the books.

Nebraska is the first state in 2016 to pass legislation exempting hair braiders from being required to have a cosmetology license. The new law is based on model legislation written by the Institute for Justice. IJ worked with Sen. Nicole Fox, the primary bill sponsor, and Brandy McMorris, an Omaha natural hair braider, to support the bill. Last year Arkansas, Colorado, Maine and Texas passed braiding deregulation bills. Similar legislation has also been proposed in Kentucky and Iowa—where IJ recently filed a lawsuit.

Since its founding, IJ has protected the rights of braiders in Washington, D.C., California, OhioArizona, Mississippi, Minnesota, Utah, TexasWashington, and Arkansas. IJ is currently challenging the licensing of hair braiders in Iowa and Missouri.