This spring a few Missouri state lawmakers fought and failed to pass a proposal that would have stripped the requirement for hair braiders to obtain a cosmetology license.
Under current law, those who want to pursue hair braiding as a profession must attend 1,500 hours of cosmetology classes and spend at least $12,000.
The failed legislation would have, instead, only required hair braiders to pass a self-administered test to provide upon inquiry.
Proponents of the bill claim that it's unnecessary and irrelevant to invest in a cosmetology degree for those wishing to pursue hair braiding as a profession.
The Institute for Justice claims that in the 1950s, less than 5 percent of the workforce was required to obtain a government license to do their job. Now, that number is over 30 percent.
Efforts to eradicate the requirement for the license have been going on since 2001.
Dan Alban is an attorney for the Institute for Justice and the lead attorney in a pending lawsuit filed in 2014 to put an end to what he calls the state’s “hair braiding licensing scheme.”
“African hair braiding is a separate occupation that is not the same thing as cosmetology or barbering,” Alban said. “They shouldn’t have to get a license in a different occupation in order to make a living.”
After Alban spoke with several sources in the state Capitol, he was under the impression that the bill had enough votes to pass through the session, but then it suspiciously died.
Alban was told that “money talks in Jefferson City” and that bills were less likely to be approved if they didn't have paid lobbyists going office to office to advocate for the bill.
“That is the opposite of democracy (and) the Missouri legislature should be ashamed of itself,” Alban said. “A bill should not be judged based on how many lobbyists are roaming the halls or how much money is behind it.”
Tameka Stigers has been braiding hair professionally for seven years, and is one of Alban’s clients for the hair braiding lawsuit.
Stigers believes the bill would have added more job opportunities for African-American women.
“It’s very sad,” Stigers said. “Part of it is a cultural difference. It really affects black people. Most of our state senators are white and they don’t understand. It wasn’t important (to them).”
Stigers plans to continue to pursue the lawsuit now that the bill has failed.
Opponents argue that the proposal's changes would eliminate decent hygiene practices in hair braiding salons.
Linda Clifford is the director for the International College of Cosmetology and is concerned that the change would decrease accountability.
Clifford provided an example of a salon that was being reprimanded at a state cosmetology board meeting for setting a woman’s hair on fire. An unlicensed hair braider had used a cigarette lighter to melt off loose ends on hair that had been sprayed with a flammable hair product.
“I’m worried for the public,” Clifford said. “Everything we do is with the public’s safety in mind and doing the best we can and I don’t know how you can do the best you can without any training.”
Clifford is also a board member and officer for the Missouri Association of Cosmetology Schools. She says the board proposed a compromise with hair braiders to offer a lesser license of 500 hours of training versus 1500 hours. She said that hair braiders declined.
“The braiders – the proponents to braiding don’t want to have to go to school at all. Period,” Clifford says. “We’ve tried to compromise. They were not willing.”
The bill passed in the House 137–10 but never got brought up again in the Senate.
Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, who sponsored the bill, has sent a request to Gov. Eric Greitens to call a special session in order to get the Hair Braiding Freedom Act passed.
“I hope that Gov. Greitens will help lead Missouri to join the vanguard of states that are swiftly passing braiding freedom laws,” Dogan says. “This will put our state on the right side of this fight.”
Missouri is one of 14 states that require hair braiders to have a cosmetology license.
Correction: Missouri is one of 14 states that require braiders to have a cosmetology license. A previous St. Louis Public Radio report listed the incorrect number of states.