- The Washington Times - Monday, October 24, 2011

As Virginia’s regulatory reach expands to include businesses such as tattoo and body piercing parlors, the costs of doing business for barber shops and hair salons are rising as well.

Laws that quietly moved through the state’s legislative process over the past two years increasing licensing fees went into effect last month. Now barbers will have to pay $140 for a license, up from $55, and license applications for barber shops, nail and hair salons increased from $90 to $225.

The higher costs are being driven by a swelling rank of professionals in trades that have only become regulated by the state in the past 10 years, such as tattooing, hair braiding and body piercing - and their license fees are going up, too.

“Increasing the number of licensees increases the cost of everything, ultimately,” said Mary Broz-Vaughan, director of communications, legislation and consumer education for the state Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR).

So will the higher fees affect the business of Wanda Bishop, the owner of Image Hair Salon in Weber City, Va.?

“Oh, Lord yes, everything does, honey - price of product, fees,” she said. “It’s devastating - a lot of hairdressers won’t be able to afford that … you go through all that schooling - it costs so much - and then you have to pay every little bit to be licensed or renewed. It’s ridiculous. It’ll hinder a lot.”

The licensing renewal fees for barber and cosmetology schools also increased, from $120 to $255.

The new fees shocked Esther Sesay, owner of Passion Hair Salon and Passion Barber Shop on the Jefferson Davis Highway in Dumfries, Va.

“I was like, ‘wow,’ ” she said. “A hundred and forty dollars is a little bit high. A lot of people cannot even finish school to have their license.”

“Don’t send me a bill,” she said, laughing.

Even the McDonnell administration acknowledged the high fee increases - but also that the matter was out of its hands.

“We have concerns about the magnitude of the fee increases, particularly the adjustments that have been made since the publication of proposed stage, however, recognize that DPOR has little or no discretion,” wrote James S. Cheng, secretary of commerce and trade, when he advanced the measure in April.

The increases are a cost of doing business, said Ms. Broz-Vaughan. State law dictates that regulatory agencies adjust fees so that they can cover their own expenses, and the Board for Barbers and Cosmetology relies on fees, in large part, to cover its share of funding the department.

At the end of the past biennium, the board had run a deficit of $102,401, and under the old fees, that deficit was expected to swell to nearly $15 million by the 2014-2016 budget cycle.

The board regulates more than 74,000 individuals and businesses in the state, and during the nine years when fees remained the same, costs for enforcement activity, information systems, and an office change increased the board’s costs.

Adam Forgette, a body piercer at Skin Thrills Tattoo and Body Piercing in Roanoke, said that reputable tattoo and piercing shops would be able to afford the increase - but it might push others to the margins.

“If they up it, cool. If they don’t up it, that’s cool,” he said. “People that don’t work in a more renowned shop or parlor or studio - I can see them putting it off indefinitely. It’s hard to catch people tattooing out of their house, and there’s no consequences for the damage they’re doing to people.”

Ms. Broz-Vaughan said the department was sympathetic to the effects the fee increases might have on people, but they were necessary.

“In this situation, this is not a discretionary increase,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s just math.”

The board examined alternatives - such as reducing random inspections of licensed facilities and cutbacks in service - but decided against it, she said.

Which may be a good thing, Mr. Forgette said.

“If you have laws and you have regulations and you have guidelines, then there needs to be someone to enforce them,” he said. “We deal with easily infected areas and bodily fluids all day long. A lot of these other shops are just dirtballs.”

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