THIS MONTH, hair braiders in Virginia will officially no longer have to worry about obtaining a government permission slip to work in the state. Recent legislation formally changes state law to exclude hair braiding from the definition of cosmetology. Although this subtle shift in language might not seem to add up to much, it could signal an important change to the lives of all citizens in Virginia.

In 2012, the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation took the first step toward deregulating hair braiding in the state by clarifying that braiders no longer had to pass an exam on “theory,” complete 170 hours of education or pay a fee of $215 to the state to practice their trade. Things were even worse before 2004. Back then, aspiring hair braiders in the state had to complete 1,500 hours of education and pay a fee of $325. This year, state lawmakers finally decided to codify the 2012 deregulation and permanently free Virginia braiders from this overly burdensome licensing scheme.

In a recently published research paper one of us wrote with Catherine Konieczny of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, we estimated the effects of Virginia’s removal of hair-braider regulation in 2012. Within two years of this deregulation, the number of small beauty shops in Virginia had increased by more than 8 percent.

This growth is higher than that experienced by Kentucky and West Virginia – two bordering states that, at the time, required hair braiders to obtain a cosmetology license. Today, both of these states have also eliminated this requirement.

Virginia’s move is not without its critics. In a recent news article, a cosmetology instructor suggests that if hair braiding is done improperly, it “can cause traction alopecia, balding [and] breakage of the hair.”

But what does the evidence say? A report prepared by the state in 2012 notes that between 2008 and 2012, there were only two fines issued to hair braiders, one license revocation and one fine issued to a salon. These data do not support the claim that hair braiding presents a serious public health and safety concern.

Of course, hair-braider deregulation might have harmed cosmetology instructors and schools – not physically, but in their wallets. When the state stopped requiring aspiring hair braiders to complete hundreds of hours of education, this meant less business for cosmetology schools and instructors.

In addition to helping aspiring hair braiders – who no longer have to complete training, pass exams and pay government fees to work – this deregulation will likely help consumers, too. A comprehensive report by the Obama White House in 2015 suggests that licensing may increase the price of services by as much as 16 percent. Lowering startup costs for hair braiders means that they can charge their customers less for their services – a win-win for both Virginia braiders and consumers.

Excessive ccupational licensing requirements are a problem that extends beyond the field of cosmetology. Different states require licenses for everyone from foresters and frog farmers to fortunetellers and florists. Lawmakers and licensing boards often enact licensing regulations under the rationale that they ensure that those practicing in a field are competent, but these justifications rarely stack up to the evidence. Furthermore, the harms caused by excessive licensing often far outweigh the costs. Requiring individuals to pay lofty fees and undergo extensive education to obtain a license blocks lower-income individuals from working in licensed fields and denies them the dignity of earning a living.

Perhaps recognizing this reality, Virginia lawmakers recently took their licensing reform efforts even further. In March, the governor signed into law the Regulatory Reduction Pilot Program, which requires the state’s Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation to reduce its regulatory mandates by 25 percent in the next three years. While the program has yet to be fully implemented – the agency is currently compiling a baseline catalog of the agency’s existing mandates, which is due out in October – it could significantly reduce Virginia’s occupational licensing burdens.

Let’s hope that Virginia continues to make strides with occupational licensing reform and does not fall prey to vested interests that do not have the welfare of Virginia citizens in mind.

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