Mississippi State Senate Votes to Set Hairbraiders Free

John Kramer
John Kramer · March 9, 2004

Washington, D.C.—Today the Mississippi Senate voted to let African hairbraiders get to work and to set them free from the unnecessary and irrelevant cosmetology regulations that had kept them from legally practicing their craft.

With only two dissenting votes, the Senate passed legislation reauthorizing the Board of Cosmetology—along with an amendment exempting braiders from the Board’s burdensome regulations. Under the Senate bill, braiders will simply be required to register with the Department of Health and to follow the Department’s health and sanitation guidelines. The Senate amendment was supported by Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee Chair Sen. Alan Nunnelee and sponsored by Senators Hillman Frazier, Nolan Mettetal, John Horhn, David Jordan and Robert Jackson.

Similar legislation passed the House last month. Differences between the House and Senate versions of will be resolved in a conference committee. Then, barring any last-minute efforts to derail the bill by cosmetology schools—which lobbied against exempting braiders—the legislation will go to Governor Haley Barbour to be signed.

“Today is a great day for African hairbraiders seeking economic empowerment—justice has been served,” said Margaret Burden of Tupelo, who has been braiding since she was a young girl and wants to transition to a career as a professional braider.

Previously, Mississippi’s cosmetology licensing regime prevented braiders across the state from earning an honest living practicing and teaching their craft—unless they completed up to several thousand hours of training in cosmetology classes that do not teach the art of hairbraiding.

With this legislation, Mississippi will join a growing number of jurisdictions, including Arizona, California, Kansas, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, that have recognized the distinction between cosmetology and braiding by exempting braiders from the cosmetology requirements—with no adverse heath or safety consequences. Likewise, Washington state recently interpreted its laws so that braiders do not fall under the cosmetology regulations. Michigan has implemented a voluntary licensing regime.

“This is a victory for economic freedom over the power of special interests—in this case, licensed cosmetologists and cosmetology schools—whose real interest was to keep out competition,” said Institute for Justice attorney Valerie Bayham. Last August the Institute filed a civil rights lawsuit challenging Mississippi’s cosmetology licensing regime on behalf of Burden, fellow aspiring braider Christina Griffin and Melony Armstrong, an experienced Tupelo braider who wishers to teach her trade. “Freeing braiders means more jobs and greater economic opportunity for Mississippians.”

Exempting braiders from the Board of Cosmetology’s 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.