J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · June 22, 2016

Arlington, Va.—In Kentucky it used to take 1,800 hours of irrelevant training to become a natural, African-style hair braider. That was because hair braiders needed to obtain a cosmetology license to practice hair braiding. But yesterday, Governor Matt Bevin held a ceremony to commemorate the signing of S.B. 269, which exempted natural hair braiders in Kentucky from needing to obtain a cosmetology license.

“This is a victory for economic liberty in the Bluegrass State,” said Christina Walsh, Director of Activism and Coalitions at the Institute for Justice (IJ). “Something as safe and common as hair braiding has no business being regulated by the government.”

IJ’s activism team helped Kentucky hair braiders organize to demand reforms to the state’s cosmetology licensing laws. Prior to the bill’s signing, hair braiders in Kentucky were required to spend up to $20,000 on 1,800 hours of irrelevant training to obtain a cosmetology license to go into business. This put legal braiding out of reach for the Commonwealth’s braiders. IJ teamed up with the Kentucky chapter of Americans for Prosperity to introduce and fight for an exemption to these unnecessary and burdensome regulations. S.B. 269 was sponsored and championed by Senator Perry Clark and Representative Reginald Meeks.

“The braiders we’ve worked with are immigrants from West Africa, who learned how to braid from their mothers as young girls,” said Walsh. “These amazing women—who simply want to earn an honest living, employ people and provide for their families—were shocked to learn that their new home made them criminals. Now they are thrilled to work hard and practice their craft without fear that they will be shut down by the government, or worse.”

The effort faced only one attack. After the House Licensing and Occupations Committee approved the bill unanimously and it was sent to the full House, Rep. Hubert Collins—whose wife chairs the Kentucky Board of Hairdressers and Cosmetologists—introduced a last-minute floor amendment that would still have made it impossible for braiders to work legally. (He told the media that he had not spoken to his wife about the issue.)  But in the face of overwhelming support for braiding freedom, Rep. Collins did not bring his amendment up for a vote—he simply voted no. S.B. 269 passed the House 86-8.

“This is a wonderful day for all the braiders, we can now go about and be free to work and earn a living without fear,” said Kine Gueye, a hair braiding entrepreneur in Kentucky. “Like millions we can now live our American Dream. Thank you to Kentucky legislators and to the governor for empowering the women of the state. It will be my pleasure to braid governor Bevin’s daughters this summer.”

According to IJ’s Untangling Regulations report , hair braiding is a perfectly safe profession, and states that have exempted hair braiders from cosmetology licensing laws have not encountered any negative effects.

By signing this bill, Kentucky joins 16 other states that have also exempted hair braiders from needing to obtain a cosmetology license, including Nebraska and Iowa earlier this year.

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