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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Opinions tangled on bill to deregulate braiding

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A bill that would deregulate natural hair braiding in Indiana has passed the House and moved to the Senate, but not without hesitation from Black lawmakers.

House Bill 1243 was authored by Rep. Timothy Wesco (R-–District 21) by request of the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency, which thinks the state’s current licensing requirements — 1,500 hours of education for a cosmetology license — are excessive for natural hair braiding, which uses no heat or harsh chemicals.

“I feel as though we should allow those who have this craft to be able to practice it and lift themselves up without the added burden of having to go through a course of study which doesn’t actually train them regarding their chosen skill and craft,” Wesco said while introducing his bill to the House Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee, which ultimately approved the measure.

Lee McGrath, legal counsel for the Institute of Justice — a self-proclaimed libertarian law firm focused on limiting the size and scope of government regulation  — testified at the hearing.

“There are three reasons why you should pass this bill,” McGrath told committee members. “One, it’s a jobs bill. Two, the procedure is safe. Three, you’ll be joining a national trend.” 

McGrath cited research from the Institute, which released a report last July titled “Barriers to Braiding: How Job-Killing Licensing Laws Tangle Natural Hair Care in Needless Red Tape.”

Despite potential benefits for Black business and the national trend toward deregulating hair braiding business, members of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus (IBLC) have mixed feelings.

Most IBLC members in the House voted against the measure. Two members who voted for the bill — Rep. Cherrish Pryor and Rep. Vanessa Summers — were added as coauthors.

Summers said Caucus members are “between a rock and a hard place” with the bill as it’s currently written. On the one hand, it could boost Black business. On the other hand, the Caucus has gotten feedback from constituents “that says African hair braiding places are nasty and need to be regulated,” Summers said. 

The IBLC reached out to professionals in the industry who also had some uncertainties about the proposed changes. The disagreement comes down to the bill’s all-or-nothing approach, aiming to scrap requirements entirely. Summers said she agrees the current licensing requirements for natural hair braiders could be improved, but many Caucus members and braiders disagree with trimming all licensing steps.

“I think we still need some type of education or certification,” said IBLC member Rep. Robin Shackleford, who voted against the bill in the House. “I’d like to see some type of certification, licensing or registration program with continuing education to take place.”

In the meantime, she’s withholding her support and hoping the measure will be tweaked.

“It still needs work,” she said. “I’d rather not put my name on it until I knew that work could be done. We’ll have to rely on the Senate to make those changes.”

Barbara Cheatham, a cosmetology educator with more than 20 years of experience, shared a similar opinion.

“I understand braiding is a culture thing. It’s something that arrived from Africa years ago. It’s a tradition. That aspect of it, I do understand,” she said. “However, as a cosmetology educator who has been in the field and been in the cosmetology school … I’m a strong advocate for education.”

Cheatham said a certification program of at least 300 hours would make more sense for braiders than the current 1,500-hour regimen, which she said costs several thousands of dollars to complete.

“If all you want to do is braiding, I don’t think you should have to go through the traditional program, because you’re only (going to practice) one facet of cosmetology,” she said.

Cheatham said the topics natural hair braiders should learn about include shampooing and conditioning; properties of hair and the scalp; and conditions, diseases and disorders that could affect the hair and scalp.

“The state should offer some type of braiding certification,” she said. “A lot of the problem people are missing is, a lot of times there may be issues with braiding.”

Shackleford said Wesco, the bill’s author, made a commitment to working on the bill with Black Caucus members. As listed co-authors, Summers said she and Pryor would be more likely to have input on the measure if it gets passed on to conference committee. Summers noted the importance of having Black lawmakers involved in the crafting of the measure going forward, since the changes would have the biggest impact on the African-American community.

As of press time, the bill had its first reading in the Senate and was referred to the Commerce and Technology Committee. One member of the IBLC, Senator Lonnie Randolph, sits on that panel.

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