Victory for African-style Hair Braiders in Iowa

Matt Powers
Matt Powers · June 30, 2016

Des Moines, Iowa—Hair braiders in Iowa will soon be free to earn an honest living. Under a new law that will take effect tomorrow, July 1, braiders will be exempted from Iowa’s cosmetology licensing laws and will simply need to register with the state. The Institute for Justice (IJ) and braiders Aicheria Bell and Achan Agit will voluntarily dismiss their lawsuit challenging Iowa’s law requiring that African-style hair braiders get a cosmetology license.

“This is a major victory for African-style hair braiders in Iowa,” said IJ attorney Meagan Forbes. “The government has no business licensing something as safe and common as hair braiding. These reforms have now put the American dream within reach for braiders across the state.”

Gov. Terry Branstad signed HF2459 into law after line-item vetoing certain provisions in the bill that continued to threaten braiders’ ability to earn a living. The vetoed provisions empowered the Iowa Department of Public Health to promulgate rules regarding the regulation of hair braiding in the state and mandated continuing education requirements and complaint-based inspections of braiders’ businesses.

In his veto message, Gov. Branstad stated, “These [vetoed] requirements are unnecessary. Licensing and regulations should only be mandated when necessary to protect public health and safety.” Gov. Branstad further stated, “According to License to Work, a study by the Institute for Justice, in the 1950s only one in twenty individuals needed the government’s permission to pursue their chosen profession. However today, the number is almost one in three. Occupational licenses decrease incomes for working Iowans and increase costs for consumers.” Gov. Branstad expressed his commitment “to continuing to work with the legislature to find other common sense solutions in reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens and licensing fees on hardworking Iowans.”

In October 2015, IJ filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Iowa braiders, Aicheria Bell and Achan Agit, seeking to protect their economic liberty. Previously, the state forced braiders to spend as much as $22,000 to complete 2,100 hours of cosmetology training and to pass a cosmetology licensing exam, even though much of this training had nothing to do with hair braiding. These burdensome requirements prevented Bell and Agit from starting their own braiding businesses and earning an honest living in the state. Although legislation to free braiders had been introduced in previous legislative sessions, it had never before advanced.

“I am grateful I can now pursue my passion and support my family without feeling like a criminal,” said Aicheria Bell. “This new law opens the door for so many braiders to start and grow their own businesses.”

Today’s victory continues IJ’s national Braiding Freedom Initiative, which seeks to protect braiders’ right to pursue their calling free from unnecessary cosmetology licensing laws. Earlier this year, Nebraska and Kentucky both exempted African-style hair braiders from needing to acquire a cosmetology license to practice their craft.

“Too many states continue to have laws like Iowa’s old law,” said IJ senior attorney Paul Avelar. “No one should have to hire a lawyer or a lobbyist just to go to work. As long as these laws remain on the books, we will continue to work with braiders across the country to secure their right to earn a living free from senseless licensing laws.”