New Jersey Governor Vetoes Hair Braiding Reform Legislature Had Passed Unanimously

Gov. Phil Murphy conditionally vetoed a bill (A-3754) on Monday that would have let African-style natural hair braiders practice their craft without a license. In New Jersey, braiders can only work legally if they are licensed cosmetologists, which requires at least 1,200 hours of training and can cost upwards of $17,000 in tuition. Several braiders in the Garden State have been fined and arrested, while others have been forced to shutter their shops, simply because they earned an honest living without that license.

Reflecting a broad, bipartisan consensus, A-3754 passed both the Assembly and Senate unanimously and without any public opposition. But on Monday, the very last day for the governor to act (and almost two months after the Senate approved the bill during the heated budget vote), Gov. Murphy rejected the reform.

“By vetoing this bill, the governor is stifling upward mobility for hundreds of immigrants and women of color,” said Brooke Fallon, assistant director of activism at the Institute for Justice. “Over 100 braiders have spoken out against New Jersey’s licensing law at community events, town halls, and rallies, even if making their voices heard could open themselves up to prosecution. We are determined to keep fighting for their right to economic liberty and are calling on the Legislature to override the governor’s veto. Braiders deserve much better.”

In his 25-page conditional veto letter, Gov. Murphy offered what amounted to an entirely new piece of legislation. In the governor’s proposal, he advocated a separate license for braiders with a maximum of 40-50 hours of coursework, depending on a braider’s experience level. In addition, the governor wants to add two new members, who own braiding salons, to the state’s cosmetology board.

Even worse, the governor’s plan would only allow braiders who have been licensed for at least three years to run their own shops. With no grandfathering provision, braiders would either have to shut down for three years or find a licensed cosmetologist or beautician to “run” their own business, even though many cosmetology schools don’t teach anything about African-style braiding techniques.

Simply put, the governor’s proposal is completely unnecessary. Today, 25 states, including Connecticut, Delaware, and Maryland, don’t license braiders. And specialty braiding licenses, like the governor has proposed, do nothing to protect the public’s health and safety and only throw braiders out of work.

In its 2016 report, Barriers to Braiding, the Institute for Justice looked at nine states and the District of Columbia, which had a separate license or registration system for hair braiders between 2006 and 2012. After examining records for more than 9,700 braiders, only 95 had a complaint file against them, with very few of those complaints relating to any alleged health or safety violations.

“The government has no business licensing something as safe and natural as braiding hair,” said Lee McGrath, senior legislative counsel for the Institute for Justice. “Instead of creating a license, New Jersey legislators who insist on regulating braiders—despite not having evidence of harm from states where braiders are free to work—could use less restrictive alternatives, like registration, health and safety brochures, or narrowly tailored online course modules. These methods would be far less burdensome on braiders.”

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