Metro

New England is trying to untangle hair braid licensing

Somali refugees braided hair at a World Refugee Day event in Damascus, Syria this week. Massachussetts lawmakers are working to reduce barriers in the state to hair braiders, who are mostly African-American women and women of African and Caribbean descent.
YOUSSEF BADAWI/EPA
Somali refugees braided hair at a World Refugee Day event in Damascus, Syria this week. Massachusetts lawmakers are working to reduce barriers in the state to hair braiders, who are mostly African-American women and women of African and Caribbean descent.

The latest legislative trend to weave its way through New England? Efforts to deregulate hair braiding.

In New Hampshire, Governor Chris Sununu signed a law last weekexempting the practice from cosmetology licensing laws, marking a victory for hair braiders. Prior to this, braiders had to become licensed cosmologists — a process that took over 1,500 hours of training and up to $20,000, according to a press release by the Institute of Justice, a law firm that has filed over a dozen lawsuits on hair braiders’ behalf.

Rhode Island’s House of Representatives approved a similar bill in May. According to the Institute of Justice, Connecticut and Maine already exempt hair-braiders from licensing laws.

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But Massachusetts — the most populous state in the region — still regulates braiding like hair-dressing, at least for now. The Legislature has plans to consider the issue in the coming months.

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State Senator Ryan Fattman, a Webster Republican, said in an interview that in the process of crafting a bill to allow barbers to make house calls — which became law last July — he discovered that braiders often don’t know they are required to obtain a cosmetology license, and those that do spend thousands of dollars to get one. He proposed legislation that would remove licensing requirements in the hopes of extending economic opportunities to hair braiders, who, according to Nick Sibilla of the Institute of Justice, are predominantly African-American and African immigrant women. It is also a popular practice among people of Caribbean descent.

“It’s an ethnic vocation that people have learned in their upbringing and they do it, and they do it without realizing they have to be licensed,” Fattman said. “We wanted to basically lower the barriers to entry for people who make a living this way.”

The Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure will likely hold a hearing on the hair braiding bill this fall, according to spokesman Sean Rourke.

“The bill will go through the normal legislative process. It is currently in the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure,” Whitney Ferguson, a spokesperson for House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, wrote in a statement.

Claire Parker can be reached at claire.parker@globe.com. Reach her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.