J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · September 14, 2017

Today, a Rhode Island hair braider and the Institute for Justice are asking the Rhode Island Senate to bring a braiding reform bill to a vote during next week’s special session. If enacted, the bill, H.B. 5436, would exempt hair braiders from having to obtain a costly and unnecessary cosmetology license, which costs thousands of dollars and requires at least 1,500 hours of irrelevant training. H.B. 5436 has already passed the House unanimously.

“This bill allows braiders like me the ability to make an honest living, while following our dreams and fulfilling our passion,” said Jocelyn DoCouto, a Rhode Island natural hair braider and an advocate for the bill. “With the passage of this bill, I can establish a better life for my kids while doing something I love to do. I ask that the Senate please bring this bill up for a vote next week and pass it, so my fellow braiders and I can get to work.”

“Rhode Island shouldn’t license something as safe and common as braiding hair,” said Christina Walsh, director of activism and coalitions at the Institute for Justice. “But to braid hair legally, braiders must spend 1,500 hours learning practices that they reject and have no intention of using in their careers, like how to use dyes, chemicals and heat. H.B. 5436 has wide support from both sides of the aisle and would allow braiders to provide for their families.”

It’s also likely the legislature never intended to regulate braiders as cosmetologists in the first place: The cosmetology statutes do not even mention braiding.

Today, 23 states do not require a license for natural hair braiders, including Connecticut, Maine, and, most recently, New Hampshire. States are increasingly realizing that licensing laws stifle a growing industry dominated by African American women, and violate their constitutional right to earn an honest living.

“For centuries, natural hair braiding has been a common practice for African and African American women,” noted Rep. Anastasia Williams, who sponsored the bill and chairs the Legislative Black and Latino Caucus. “Natural hair braiding is an art form, limited only by the braiders’ creativity and does not require any kind of formal training. Forcing braiders to meet the same licensing requirements as cosmetologists is a clear injustice.”