- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

ANNISTON, Ala. (AP) - The four square feet of linoleum behind Calvin Lackey Sr.’s barber chair is a spot many a political lobbyist would envy.

That’s where Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, gets his hair cut. It’s also where Lackey voiced his opposition to a recent law meant to regulate his 17th Street Anniston barber shop and shops like it across the state.

The law, approved by the Legislature last May, puts barbering under the control of the state Board of Cosmetology and Barbering. It required barbers and barber shops to be licensed and called for inspections to ensure shops are sanitary.

Proponents of the law say it’s needed to prevent unlicensed, untrained cosmetologists from obtaining barbering business licenses and offering services like chemical hair treatments and coloring.

But as the law was written, traditional barbers - who do not typically offer those services - would be regulated just the same.

That wasn’t the aim, Marsh said by phone Tuesday, and just as Marsh did from Lackey, his fellow legislators quickly heard from their barbers just how unpopular the new law was.

Legislators on Thursday approved a bill by Marsh, the president pro tem of the state Senate, that will exempt barbers who have been cutting hair for at least 10 years from those new regulations. The bill is awaiting Gov. Robert Bentley’s signature.

“Had they took a different approach to that, and left those that do traditional barbering like I do out, there would have been no squabbles,” Lackey said, seated Tuesday in the only barber chair in his shop, upholstered in maroon vinyl with a white-porcelain base.

Lackey stopped short of taking full credit for influencing Marsh’s bill, but said he believes the legislator listens to legitimate complaints from his constituents, and acts on them.

“I can’t say enough about Del,” Lackey said.

General Jackson, owner of Jackson’s Unisex Barber Shop, was appointed to the seven-member Board of Cosmetology and Barbering last year.

Jackson said by phone Tuesday that he approves of the new compromise, and said last year’s law was never meant to harm anyone, barbers or cosmetologists.

Lackey told Marsh that most traditional barbers disapprove of the extra sanitation inspections and costly fees the new law would levy on them.

The new law would have required all barbers receive extra licensing. Every barber in the state would have had to purchase an $80, two-year license, and every barber shop in Alabama would have been required to buy a two-year license for $150.

“Of course, I wasn’t the only one,” Lackey said, speaking of the other barbers who gave their legislators an earful.

Lackey’s shop is clean and quiet. A framed portrait of John Wayne hangs on a wall, and the lone barber chair sits centered in front of a wide mirror on the wall above the cabinet where Lackey keeps his clippers and combs.

Lackey has been barbering for nearly three decades. He learned the craft from his father, who learned it from his father.

Stepping into a barber shop is stepping out from the outside world into a different one, Lackey explained. It’s a world where opinions and considerate conversations are welcomed, as long as it doesn’t get too heated, he said.

“In this business you get to talk to people from all walks of life coming in all day every day,” Jackson said, but some topics are best left alone.

“Religion is one and politics is the other,” Jackson said.

Lackey agreed, saying: “In this business you don’t talk about those two. That’s an old standing rule. Maybe not written, but applied nevertheless.”

But there are often exceptions to every rule, and barbers sometimes have the rare opportunity to whisper into the ears of the powerful. Indeed, Marsh says he often uses barber shops to gauge how pending legislation is going over with voters.

“Quite often,” Marsh said. “The barber shop is a pretty good way to go.”

The idea of new regulations didn’t sit well with 61-year-old Lackey, who said he had no intention of starting over this late in the day.

Retirement is on the horizon, he said, and he plans to “let someone else take up the cloth.”

As he spoke, he brushed his hand over a barber’s cape, draped across the arm of the only barber chair in his shop.

It’s the chair he stands behind when the senator needs a haircut.

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