- Associated Press - Sunday, February 1, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - An upcoming vote by Arkansas lawmakers could end a federal court lawsuit claiming the state unfairly discriminates against African-style hair braiders.

Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville said it is illogical for the state to include braiding under its cosmetology laws and that the law harms small businesses. He contacted the Virginia-based Institute for Justice after it filed the lawsuit last summer.

The Arkansas Department of Health holds hair braiders to the same standards as people who cut, color or treat hair. Cosmetologists are required to take 1,500 hours of coursework to obtain a license and face fines if they practice without it.

A department spokeswoman declined to comment.

Institute attorney Paul Avelar said the required courses don’t teach braiding, which he said isn’t a threat to public health or safety. He said Arkansas law violates the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal treatment under the law.

The institute recently won similar lawsuits in three states and has settled cases with six others. It has pending lawsuits in Washington and Missouri.

“There are some things that are so safe and so common that the state has no business licensing them and braiding is definitely one of those things,” Avelar said.

He said the lawsuit will be dismissed if Ballinger’s bill, as presented, becomes law. He said the case is on hold until the end of the legislative session.

Nivea Earl, president of the Natural State Braiders Association, said many braiders aren’t aware they’re in violation of state law. The Jacksonville braider says cosmetology courses can cost up to $20,000.

“We’re not cutting or using chemicals,” Earl said. “The law that’s in place now is unfair and unjust.”

Ballinger said his bill should be presented to a House committee next week.

“We can make that lawsuit go away,” Ballinger said. “We can make it so that we’re no longer embarrassed on a national stage.”


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