LITTLE ROCK — A bill to exempt professional hair braiders from state regulations cleared a House committee Thursday.

LITTLE ROCK — A bill to exempt professional hair braiders from state regulations cleared a House committee Thursday.


The House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee endorsed House Bill 1177 by Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, titled the Natural Hair Braiding Protection Act. The bill would remove professional hair braiders from education and licensing requirements set by the state Cosmetology Technical Advisory Committee.


Ballinger contended that hair braiders currently have to bear unnecessary costs to comply with state regulations and are subject to fines if they violate regulations that have nothing to do with hair braiding.


"What attracted me to this is it’s a group of people who don’t have a lobby or an industry with a lot of money backing them," Ballinger said as he introduced the bill. "What it is, is just a group of people who want to go to work, make a little money to take care of themselves, and right now the state is standing the way of their doing that."


Ballinger said one issue facing the state is a federal lawsuit filed by the Virginia-based Institute for Justice in June 2014 on behalf of two plaintiffs in Arkansas who contend their businesses are harmed by the manner in which Arkansas attempts to regulate the practice of natural hair braiding.


That lawsuit was temporarily halted to give the state time to address the issue, but Ballinger said it will resume upon adjournment if lawmakers fail to act.


"They’ve been very successful in winning these lawsuits and it’s likely, because our requirements are so high, they’ll win this one too," he said.


Kim Ford of England, a member of the CTAC, a licensed cosmetologist and a cosmetology instructor, spoke against the bill, saying hair braiding poses risks that Ballinger’s bill does not address.


"A lot of women of color are subject to keloid type skin, which causes scarring down in the hair follicles," Ford said, referring to a type of scarring that results in excessive scar tissue formation and can lead to permanent disfigurement.


Ford said the CTAC has drafted legislation to replace, for hair braiders, the current requirement of 1,500 hours of instruction in cosmetology with 40 hours of instruction in hair and scalp care and 120 hours in safety and sanitation procedures.


Ford agreed the current education requirement is excessive but said some instruction should be required and said Ballinger’s bill would provide no consumer protection should a problem arise.


Nivea Earl of Jacksonville and Christine McLean of Little Rock, plaintiffs in the lawsuit, spoke in support of the bill.


Earl said current regulations are excessive and fail to address procedures involved in hair braiding but require extensive knowledge of cosmetology practices that she said are irrelevant.


"The Cosmetology Board doesn’t teach you how to braid hair," said Earl, "they teach you how to work on hair that is already chemically processed."


McLean told the panel, "They are making me go to school and making me take instruction in things that have nothing to do with hair braiding."


HB 1173 would provide for certification of hair braiders who have two consecutive years of practice as of Dec. 31, 2015, and provide an affidavit to that effect, provide an affidavit from an employer or customer attesting to having witnessed the applicant practicing hair braiding in the past two years, submit an application and pay a $30 certification fee every two years.


Certification would be voluntary for any practitioners whose businesses offer only natural hair braiding.