With Governor’s Signature Today, Mississippi Untangles Braiding Regulations

John Kramer
John Kramer · April 19, 2005

Washington, D.C.—Governor Haley Barbour is expected to sign legislation today that allows Mississippi hairbraiders to get to work without the unnecessary licensing requirements of the Mississippi State Board of Cosmetology. Previously, braiders across the state were prevented from earning an honest living practicing or teaching their craft—until they completed up to several thousand hours of cosmetology training that generally do not include the art of African hairbraiding.

Prompted by a lawsuit filed by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice on behalf of braiders, the state legislature worked out a compromise in joint conference that simply required braiders to pay a $25 registration fee with the Board of Health, post basic health and sanitation guidelines at their places of business, and complete a self-test on that information. Like any other business, braiding establishments would still need to obtain a business license and satisfy all other state laws. Committee members who approved the compromise language included Representatives Steve Holland, Joey Fillingane, and Frances Fredericks and Senators Hillman Frazier, Alan Nunnelee and Nolan Mettetal.

With this legislation, Mississippi joins a growing number of jurisdictions, including Arizona, California, Kansas, Maryland, and Washington,that have exempted braiders from the cosmetology requirements. Michigan has implemented a voluntary licensing regime. Tennessee is currently considering exemption as well.

“I am finally able to expand my business and provide jobs to Mississippi braiders,” said Melony Armstrong, who owns and manages Naturally Speaking, Tupelo’s only natural hair care salon. “This is a dream come true.”

In August 2004, the Institute for Justice filed a civil rights lawsuit challenging Mississippi’s cosmetology-licensing regime on behalf of Armstrong and aspiring braiders Margaret Burden and Christina Griffin.

“This is a victory for economic liberty over the power of special interests—in this case, licensed cosmetologists and cosmetology schools—whose real interest was to keep out competition,” said Valerie Bayham, an Institute for Justice attorney.

“I already know how to braid,” said Burden, who has been braiding since she was a young girl and plans to transition to a career as a professional braider. “It is about time that the State allow me to get to work and earn a living at it. Today is a great day for African hairbraiders who are seeking economic empowerment and can now bring their dreams and ideas into reality.”

Occupational licensing laws govern entry into about 10 percent of all jobs in America.

Bayham said, “These barriers increase costs and thereby discourage people from starting their own businesses, creating job opportunities and providing services.”

In the case of braiders—who do not use reactive chemicals or dyes—health and sanitation concerns are easily addressed by informing braiders of the need to use sanitized instruments, wash their hands between clients, and keep their work areas clean.

Exempting braiders from the Board of Cosmetology’s burdensome licensing regime garnered broad, politically diverse support from organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the American Hair Braiders and Natural Haircare Association.