A Hairy Situation in the Garden State

New Jersey hair braiders faced a setback this past Monday at the hands of Governor Phil Murphy: Gov. Murphy conditionally vetoed a bill that would have allowed hair braiders to more easily work in their chosen profession.

Since 1984, New Jersey hair braiders have been required to obtain a cosmetology license in order to braid hair. But in the years since then, braiding has emerged as a popular practice separate from hair styling and coloring, rendering the need for braiders to get extensive cosmetology training unnecessary. The just-vetoed bill would have exempted hair braiders from this requirement. It had been embraced by state legislators, receiving unanimous support from the New Jersey Assembly and Senate. It boasted a bipartisan contingent of co-sponsors, with ten Democrats and four Republicans sponsoring the legislation.

In a statement justifying his veto, Gov. Murphy acknowledged that current licensing requirements “may prevent many from engaging in the practice of hair braiding” and that lessening the licensing burden on hair braiders would “expand economic opportunities for African-American women [and] immigrants from African and Caribbean countries”—the primary providers of hair braiding services. But Gov. Murphy urged that the desire to increase economic opportunity ought to be tempered by the need to protect consumers.

That would be a noble sentiment—if hair braiding actually posed any threat to consumer health or safety.

New Jersey is home to some of the most burdensome occupational licensing requirements in the country. The state ranked 47th in the Cato Institute’s just-released “Freedom in the 50 States” report (only California, Hawaii, and New York ranked lower). One of the reasons for its nearly rock-bottom ranking? The report says that in New Jersey, “occupational licensing is more extensive than average.”

And when it comes to obtaining a license to braid hair, “extensive” is a pretty perfect way to describe the requirements. To get a license in the Garden State, hair braiders must currently complete 1,200 hours of training, which can cost around $17,000 in total. (To make matters worse, most of this training doesn’t even cover topics germane to hair braiding.) Braiders caught operating without a license are hit with dislocating fines.