There are far too many laws in our nation. Sometimes these laws are the result of sensible legislation born from public need. More often our laws are created after legislators are influenced by special interests or are enacted in an effort to show constituents how useful their legislators have been on election day.
Occasionally, laws are passed simply to protect an entrenched business from the competition. Why bother to provide a low-cost or quality service when you can just donate to your friendly neighborhood lawmaker and ensure that you are the only service in town?
Ohio requires 20 hours of training to serve as an armed security guard, 130 hours of training to become an emergency medical technician, and 445 hours to become a police officer. Surely an occupation which requires 1,500 hours of training must be extraordinarily demanding or dangerous. Perhaps, but it requires 1,500 hours of training to obtain a cosmetology license in Ohio. Admittedly, cosmologists who work in full-service salons often work with chemicals and razors, and it is perhaps justifiable to require some training before allowing anyone to just hang up a sign and perform these some of these services. But, it is illegal to simply braid someone’s hair without a license in Ohio. That is absurd.
Many people, commonly immigrants, are able to earn an excellent living by braiding hair. It requires almost no initial investment, can pay a comparatively high hourly wage, and allows for a flexible schedule. Braiding hair is not dangerous, and does not involve harsh chemicals or dangerous tools. It is a skill usually passed down from generation to generation of women. Requiring braiders to spend months in school and thousands of dollars to acquire a license to do what they already know how to do makes no sense. Nevertheless, Ohio insists that individuals must pay large sums of money and train for extraordinary lengths of time before they may engage in this business.
In 1997 a group of Ohio hair braiders filed a federal lawsuit challenging the irrational requirement that braiders obtain cosmetology licenses. During the course of the litigation, the state legislature sprang into action and amended the state’s cosmetology laws creating a “natural haircare” license. After the passage of this statute, the federal court dismissed the lawsuit as moot.
There is currently only one school in the state of Ohio that offers a course for this “natural haircare” license. The school is located in Columbus, and it offers the “natural hair culturist” course for approximately $3,000 in cash, without the opportunity to apply for financial aid or grants. The course and licensure require 450 hours of training and 22.5 credit hours of course work. This is still more than the training demanded of the armed security officers, EMTs, and police officers mentioned above. All this to braid hair in exchange for money.
The justification of economic regulation generally is to protect the public good, but what good is served by these kinds of senseless laws? No one should be branded a criminal for braiding hair without a license. This is a clear case of legislators protecting established businesses from competition.
Our society should celebrate the American entrepreneurial spirit and encourage new businesses. There are certainly occupations which call for high training standards and government oversight, but hair braiders are not paramedics. When it comes to the normal industrious activities of everyday Americans, the criminal code should be held at bay.
John Judkins is a Greenfield attorney.