Last month we published a paper on medical licensing and reforms that could make care more available to Missouri patients, but the lessons from that essay—unshackling supply to meet customer demand—are not exclusive to the medical profession. Indeed, licensing laws can act as unnecessary barriers not only to customers seeking medical services, but also to professionals in other fields who are ready and able to offer services to customers who need them.
That unnecessary inteference by government is the basis for a lawsuit filed in 2014 by the Institute for Justice against Missouri's Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners and on behalf of two St. Louis-based hair braiders. As IJ explains on its website,
If you want to braid hair for a living in Missouri, you must spend thousands of dollars on at least 1,500 hours of cosmetology training that teaches you nothing about African-style hair braiding. That’s far more time and money than it takes to become a licensed EMT in the state.
Joba Niang and Tameka Stigers have been braiding hair for much of their lives and each woman owns a successful hair braiding business. African hair braiding is a centuries-old natural hair care technique that uses no dyes or chemicals; it is safe for the braider to perform and does not hurt the person getting their hair braided. But Missouri wants to turn the two women into criminals.
First, the bad news. In September a federal judge ruled against
the hair braiders, saying that the Board's licensing regime was acceptable "despite claims from braiders that the process is irrelevant to what they do, unnecessary and expensive." IJ plans to appeal.
But the good news is that along with the potential for relief on appeal, newly-minted Missouri state legislators could always simply revisit the issue of licensing in the next legislative session and, just reform the law for braiders and other professionals. Certainly there have been attempts at reforming licensure
in the past, with some positive results
, but as a general matter it's been slow going in this policy area.
That needs to change. It's clear that Missouri's licensing system is in need of a significant overhaul—for medical professionals, hair braiders, and other professionals. And regardless of what happens in the courts, I hope we see progress in licensure reform in the legislature in 2017. It would be good for workers, and for consumers.