Suit challenges Louisiana training mandate for hair braiding

An organization that once challenged Louisiana licensing and permitting requirements for commercial flower arranging and cosmetic eyebrow threading is now going after what it calls onerous and unconstitutional demands on people who braid hair for a living.

The Virginia-based Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit Thursday in state court in Baton Rouge on behalf of three practitioners of natural hair braiding techniques practiced widely in African American communities. The suit says Louisiana’s requirement for 500 hours of training is difficult to fulfill. That’s because few cosmetology schools offer the course — in fact the suit says there appears to be only one — and the state doesn’t appear to even offer the required exam.

One plaintiff moved to Texas to get out from under the burdensome permit requirement, the lawsuit says.

Another, New Orleans area resident Lynn Schofield, had been allowed to work without the requisite permit because she had been in business more than two years before permitting began in 2003 and was “grandfathered” in, the suit said. But her permit lapsed due to personal emergencies and she has been unable to meet the requirements, in part because the only cosmetology school offering the lengthy courses is hours away.

The suit says Schofield had to close three “Afro Touch” hair styling locations because the permits are now so hard to get for her, or potential employees.

The suit says plaintiff attorneys believe only 19 people in the state currently have the required “alternative hair design permits” needed to legally braid hair, “while there are many more unlicensed and unpermitted braiders.”

Louisiana’s cosmetology board is the defendant. Messages seeking board comment weren’t returned Friday.

The suit says the board unconstitutionally adopted permit provisions that should be reserved for the Legislature; and that the board unconstitutionally let cosmetology schools develop the permit curriculum.

Institute for Justice has had some success at challenging license and permit requirements in Louisiana in the past, and it has challenged hair braiding requirements in other states, including Mississippi.

Until last year, eyebrow threading practitioners in Louisiana needed an esthetician’s license, requiring 750 hours of beauty school courses and three licensing exams. After a lawsuit backed by Institute of Justice was filed, the board required only a test and a permit with costs totaling $50.

A 2010 lawsuit backed by the group challenged licensing requirements for Louisiana florists. That year, the Legislature eliminated a requirement for a “demonstration” exam to obtain a retail florist license. The suit was dropped, but license requirements, including a written exam, remain and subsequent legislative efforts to eliminate the requirements have been unsuccessful.

Conor Beck, a spokesman for the institute, said it has filed 13 suits in other jurisdictions over hair braiding requirements.

“We’ve had 13 past braiding cases, 12 of them are wins, a few of which happened when states decided to end their license requirements rather than face IJ in court,” he said in an email.

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