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Hair braiding bill advances in Tennessee

March 18, 2019

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to loosen state regulations surrounding African-style hair braiding advanced on Monday in the Tennessee Statehouse.

Members on the House Government Operations Committee agreed hair braiders should not face the same rigorous licensing requirements as cosmetologists. The bill must now clear a financial panel before it can be reviewed by the full House.

Currently, Tennessee requires hair braiders to complete at least 300 hours of natural hair styling at a cosmetology school or face a penalty. Under the proposed legislation, hair braiders would be allowed to attend just 16 hours of health and hygiene training. Hair braiders would also have to register with the state and post a notice declaring they are not licensed by the board of cosmetology and barber examiners.

Rep. Mary Littleton, a Republican from Dickson, said the state’s existing rules are too onerous for a skill most people learn as children. She added that emergency medical technicians are only required to undergo 60 hours of training.

Opponents argued the deregulation would place the public at risk because some techniques require boiling hot water to set the braid. Additionally, beauty schools across the country have opposed such efforts to deregulate hair braiding by also citing safety and health concerns.

For example, multiple natural hair stylists testified Monday, warning about experiencing deeply painful burns caused by hot water and braiding. One woman shared that hot water was accidentally poured on her foot during a braiding training session. Another stylist said a pot of boiling water was once accidentally dumped on her young daughter’s head, causing severe burns and scars.

However, supporters countered the boiling water practice would not be allowed under the bill.

At one point, Democratic Rep. Mike Stewart asked if the bill was being backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, due to the bill’s endorsement from the Beacon Center of Tennessee. He said the conservative group is funded by the influential donors. The Koch brothers have often supported loosening government regulations.

A Beacon Center representative said information about their donors is private, and said their group had been contacted by 100 African-American women urging passage of the bill.