Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Home / National News / Bill would lift Idaho’s hair braiding license requirement

Bill would lift Idaho’s hair braiding license requirement

An Idaho lawmaker has introduced a bill that would lift the licensing requirements for professional hair braiders, after three Black women filed a federal lawsuit over the braiding rules.

Rep. Colin Nash, a Democrat from Boise, told the House State Affairs Committee that he thought the requirement had been lifted last year, but the recently filed lawsuit showed that it was still an issue. Idaho is one of five states that still require cosmetology licenses for professional hair braiding. The licenses require 1,600 hours of training and can cost up to $20,000, even though cosmetology schools aren’t required to teach braiding techniques for naturally textured hair.

The women, who are all experienced at hair braiding and represented by the Institute for Justice, filed the lawsuit against the Idaho Barber and Cosmetology Services Licensing Board in Boise’s U.S. District Court.

Nash told the committee that the bill would make clear that hair braiding is not included in the state’s rules on cosmetology. He said the legislation would, “hopefully save the taxpayers some money, and get out of the way of private business owners who would like to engage in the practice of hair braiding.”

The bill won unanimous support from the committee members, who voted to speed its progress through the House by moving it ahead on the reading calendar.

The Idaho Statesman first published the story last week, and it was picked up by the Associated Press March 9.

Prior reporting includes:

Sonia Ekemon, 40, learned to braid hair as a child while living in a refugee camp in Benin, a country in West Africa. She honed her skills over the years and eventually earned a professional hair-braiding license as a teenager before moving to the United States in 2000. As an Idaho Central Credit Union employee, she thought offering her hair-braiding skills would be a good way to earn extra money — until she learned it was illegal.

Cosmetology training largely focuses on how to cut, color and chemically treat hair. Only two of 110 questions on the written cosmetology exam are on braiding, and the practical exam doesn’t cover the topic at all, according to the Institute for Justice.

The current requirement means it can be difficult to find anyone offering hair braiding services. People who braid hair without a license are afraid to advertise. Ekemon said she has received a flood of requests from one group in particular: white parents with adopted Black children. The parents didn’t know how to braid hair themselves and struggled to find a salon that offered the service.

The Institute for Justice has worked to end braiding license requirements in 31 states through lawsuits and legislation.

“Instead of getting their businesses off the ground, hair braiders in Idaho are tangled in senseless regulation,” said Dan Alban, Institute for Justice senior attorney. “Idaho should not be putting entrepreneurs out of business with unnecessary licensing laws.”

About The Associated Press