PhotoTexas Governor Greg Abbott is expected to sign House Bill 2717 into law, deregulating the practice and teaching of professional hair braiding and repeal the occupational-licensing requirements that required hair braiders to meet the same strict licensing requirements as barbers and cosmetologists.

Texas' state House of Representatives unanimously voted to pass HB 2717 in April, after a contentious legal battle spanning three decades.

Texas law strictly regulates barbers and cosmetologists, mainly on safety grounds: among other things, those trades require the use of sharp tools and potentially dangerous chemicals. Braiding hair requires neither, yet in 2007, when the state started regulating hairbraiders and teachers of the art, it mandated that they meet the same licensing requirements as barbers or cosmetologists.

Dallas resident and African hairbraiding expert Isis Brantley has been braiding hair professionally for over 30 years — and the law has hassled her over it for almost that long.

She started braiding at home in her kitchen, but was arrested when she tried opening a salon. “As soon as I opened up the shop, wow, the red tape was wrapped around my hands,” she told the Texas Tribune in April. “Seven cops came in, in front of my clients, and arrested me and took me to jail like a common criminal. The crime was braiding without a cosmetology license.”

Wrapped in red tape

Brantley spent years challenging the hairbraiding regulations in court, and in 2007 the state modified the requirements: henceforth, hairbraiders seeking a license would only have to show 35 hours of formal training rather than 1,500 hours, and Brantley specifically was “grandfathered in” and granted a braiding license.

So she won the legal right to professionally braid hair, but when she tried opening a school to give others the 35 hours of instruction they'd need to to do the same, the state told her a braiding school must meet the same standards as a barber school.

Brantley sued the state in 2013, saying that the barber regulations on her braiding school were unconstitutional and unreasonable. The non-profit Institute For Justice, which joined Brantley in filing her suit, outlined the requirements Texas set before Brantley could legally teach the art of traditional African hairbraiding:

… Isis must spend 2,250 hours in barber school, pass four exams, and spend thousands of dollars on tuition and a fully-equipped barber college she doesn’t need, all to teach a 35-hour hairbraiding curriculum.  Tellingly, Texas will waive all these regulations if Isis goes to work for an existing barber school and teaches hairbraiding for them. 

That “fully equipped” barber college would have to include at least 10 student workstations, each with a reclining barber chair, plus one hair-washing sink for every two workstations. None of these are required, or used in any way, for braiding hair.

In January, a federal judge ruled that Texas' regulations on hairbraiding schools were unconstitutional and did nothing to advance public health or safety, nor meet any other legitimate government interest.

During that trial Arif Panju, the Institute For Justice attorney who represented Brantley in her court battle, noted that the state couldn't identify a single hairbraiding school capable of meeting those strict barber-school requirements. And today, Panju called Governor Abbott's stated intention of signing HB 2717 into law this afternoon “a final victory for natural hair braiders across Texas. It also serves as recognition that occupational licensing has gone too far when 1 in 3 Texans are forced to obtain a government license to simply go to work each morning.”

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