J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · July 2, 2018

By a vote of 34-0, the New Jersey Senate approved a bill yesterday that would eliminate the state’s expensive and time-consuming license requirement for African-style natural hair braiders. In New Jersey, braiders can only work legally if they are licensed cosmetologists. That license takes at least 1,200 hours of training, while tuition at cosmetology schools can cost upwards of $15,000. Adding insult to injury, many cosmetology schools do not teach African hair braiding techniques, which are all-natural and shun the use of potentially hazardous chemicals.

Sponsored by Assemblywomen Angela McKnight and Shanique Speight in the Assembly and Sen. Fred Madden in the Senate, the bill (A-3754) would explicitly exempt hair braiding from New Jersey’s cosmetology licensing requirement. To further protect the honest enterprise of hair braiders, the bill would preempt any county or municipal ordinances that regulate braiding and would waive any outstanding fines, fees and penalties imposed against braiders. Several braiders in the Garden State have been fined and even arrested just for practicing their craft without a license.

A-3754 has already passed the Assembly unanimously and now heads to Gov. Phil Murphy for signature. If he signs, New Jersey would become the 26th state where braiders are free to practice without a license.

“The government has no business licensing something as safe and natural as braiding hair,” said Brooke Fallon, assistant director of activism at the Institute for Justice. “This legislation will have a huge impact on entrepreneurs of color and immigrant communities across the state. We applaud Assemblywomen McKnight and Speight, and Senator Madden for understanding the urgency of this issue and shepherding reform through the legislature.”

Under the new law, braiders would have to register their businesses every two years with a newly created “Hair Braiding Establishment Advisory Committee.” Braiding shops and salons would also be inspected “without prior notice.”

“New Jersey braiders will need to watch the new advisory committee to make sure it does not become captured by industry insiders and start imposing new, unnecessary regulations to prevent honest competition, like a specialty license for hair braiders” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Paul Avelar, who heads IJ’s Braiding Freedom Initiative. “Our research has shown that these licensing laws do nothing to protect the public’s health and safety and only throw braiders out of work.”

“The new law would be a dramatic improvement over the status quo of strict laws and heavy fines that harm entrepreneurs, and would be a major step forward in protecting braiding freedom,” added Fallon. “We urge the governor to sign it.”