- Associated Press - Thursday, February 12, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - African-style hair braiders could practice without a cosmetology license in Arkansas under legislation that was unanimously endorsed Thursday by a state House committee.

The legislation stems from a federal lawsuit that accuses the state of unfairly singling out braiders, who say required courses for cosmetology licenses in in Arkansas don’t cover their craft and can cost up to $20,000. They currently face fines if they practice without a license.

The bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger of Hindsville would exempt braiders from the state’s cosmetology requirements. It would also give them avenues for state certification, though such certification wouldn’t be mandatory.

“This is a trade that is not inherently dangerous,” Ballinger told the Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee. “We’re going to say this is one trade that we’re not going to license, this is one art we’re not going to license.”

No member of the committee voted against the bill, which now moves to the full House.

Ballinger - who called the state’s current law embarrassing and discriminatory - said he contacted the Virginia-based Institute for Justice after the organization sued Arkansas last summer. If signed into law, the proposal would end the lawsuit, according to Paul Avelar, an attorney for the institute.

The institute recently won similar lawsuits in three states and has settled cases with six others. It has pending lawsuits in Washington and Missouri. Avelar said the Arkansas law violates the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal treatment under the law.

Jacksonville resident Nivea Earl, who has professionally braided for 16 years, said she doesn’t have a cosmetology license and is afraid of being shut down if the law doesn’t change.

“Braiding is a part of our culture,” Earl, president of the Natural State Braiders Association, told the committee.

The Arkansas Department of Health, which oversees cosmetology licenses, didn’t take a stance on the bill. A spokesman said it has received two complaints against Arkansas hair braiders since 2011.

The lone speaker against the measure was Kim Ford, a member of the state Cosmetology Technical Advisory Committee. She urged lawmakers to create an appropriate form of mandatory licensing for the braiders.

“Consumers, regardless of where they are going, if they receive a service then they deserve to be protected,” Ford said.


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