- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 28, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Iowa’s system for licensing individuals who want to do African-style hair braiding is burdensome and expensive, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of two women who said Wednesday that their constitutional rights are being violated.

Aicheria Bell and Achan Agit say the Iowa Board of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences requires 2,100 hours of training at a cosmetology school to secure a license to do hair braiding in the state. The women say the training includes how to do manicures, facials and haircuts, but not hair braiding, and that it can cost as much as $22,000.

The women are being represented by the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based law firm that has handled similar hair braiding cases in other states. Attorney Megan Forbes said Iowa’s system violates the women’s constitutional rights to earn an honest living without irrational government regulation. She said hair braiding would offer entrepreneurial opportunities for economically disadvantaged individuals.

“Iowa has no business licensing something as safe and common as hair braiding” she said. “The state can’t force braiders to take on thousands of dollars in debt to learn skills that they already know.”

Bell and Agit spoke Wednesday to reporters at the state Capitol. Bell, of Des Moines, said she lives in fear as an assistant at a salon. She called the current licensing system “overbearing.”

“I just want to work and make a living for my family and to teach braiding and to be able to give back to my community,” she said. “I’m not trying to not pay taxes or break any laws. I just want to live the way that God gave me the right and the talent.”

Agit, also of Des Moines, wiped away tears as she spoke of wanting to open a salon that offers hair braiding.

“It’s because of hair braiding, that’s how I survived to come to the United States,” said Agit, who came to the country from what is now South Sudan.

The Iowa Department of Public Health oversees the cosmetology board. Polly Carver-Kimm, a department spokeswoman, said the agency cannot comment on pending litigation.

The Legislature considered a bill last session that would have changed the requirements needed to do hair braiding. It failed to garner enough support to reach a full legislative committee.

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