Last week, the state assembly passed Assembly Bill 12, which specifies that a person does not need to obtain a barbering or cosmetology license in order to perform natural hair braiding; something that already exists in state statute. Braiding is defined in the bill as, “twisting, wrapping, weaving, extending, locking, crocheting, or braiding hair by hand or with a mechanical device.” I, along with four of my colleagues, declined to vote for this bill for a few reasons:
1. Natural hair braiding without a license already exists in the state of Wisconsin.
Currently, the Wisconsin Department of Safety & Professional Services does not have a separate braiding license. According to state statute, a person who is not licensed under Wis. Statute 454.06 by the cosmetology examining board may own or operate an establishment, but may not practice barbering, cosmetology, aesthetics, electrolysis or manicuring. Barbering and cosmetology specifically encompasses, “arranging, styling, dressing, shampooing, cleansing, curling, dyeing, tinting, coloring, bleaching, waxing, waving, straightening, cutting, shaving, trimming, relaxing, singeing, or performing similar work upon the hair of the head, neck, or face of any person by any means.”
From this vantage point, a clarifying bill is unnecessary and only complicates matters for professionals and practitioners because it adds the ability for natural hair braiders to use “mechanical devices,” which are defined in the bill as, “a clip, comb, crochet hook, curler, curling iron, hairpin, roller, scissors, needle, thread, or hair binder.”
2. The Legislation Perpetuates Deregulation.
As a legislator, I received concerns from several constituents urging me not to support the legislation, because they felt it was problematic due to a lack of regulations. When the proposal was originally introduced last year, a Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) administrator remarked about the looseness of regulations on hair braiders because individual practitioners often work from home. It is also not lost on me that the model legislation that was used for the bill comes from a Charles Koch-backed libertarian law firm that believes wholeheartedly in deregulation and “economic liberty”; where economic liberty may begin, inspection may not follow.
According to Alicia Bailey, a contributor to Byrdie, a natural hair magazine, “tight braids can potentially cause permanent damage to the scalp and the hair.” When braids are too tight, they could potentially cause soreness or follicular pustules, which are inflamed, sore, raised bumps on the scalp, in addition to traction alopecia.
“Traction alopecia is hair loss caused by the hair being pulled or manipulated the same way over a period of time,” Bailey said. “If caught early, the hair can grow back over time. However, if it is pulled repeatedly over time, permanent follicular damage (damage to the hair follicle), can occur causing the hair to not grow back. Tight braids can also lead to thinning of the hair, hairline, or hair breakage.”
As an African American woman, I believe in our time honored traditions of braiding. I also understand the need to entrepreneurial freedom, but I don’t want that to come at the expense of health and wellness.