New Jersey Gov. Murphy Vetoes Hair-Braiding Licensing Reform

Published October 12, 2018

The New Jersey General Assembly approved Gov. Phil Murphy’s substitute proposal for regulating African hair-braiding licensing after Murphy conditionally vetoed a bill that would have exempted hair braiders from the state’s regulations governing mandatory education for cosmetologists.

The substitute bill creates a separate set of occupational licensing requirements for braiders, mandating up to 50 hours of coursework. Braiders who have been licensed for at least three years will be permitted to apply for a license. Currently practicing hair-braiders will either be required to stop working for three years before applying for permission, or find a state-licensed cosmetologist or beautician to officially manage the business.

Murphy conditionally rejected the original legislation, Assembly Bill 3754, and submitted the substitute proposal in August. The New Jersey Assembly and Senate voted to accept Murphy’s alternative on September 27.

African hair-braiding, also known as natural hair-braiding, involves no chemicals or heat and is often practiced by members of the African-American community.

Price Hikes, Job Losses

Edward Timmons, an associate professor of economics at Saint Francis University and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News, says requiring government permission slips discourages entrepreneurs from opening new businesses and artificially increases the prices of services.

“Occupational licensing increases the price of hair braiding services for consumers,” Timmons said. “In addition, hair braider licensing makes it harder for aspiring hair-braiders to start a business. This may force hair-braiders to work underground, or discourage them from working at all.”

Timmons says occupational licensing laws generally do more harm than good.

“Workers may experience job lock, since licensing credentials do not transfer from state to state,” Timmons said. “The fees associated with occupational licensing requirements are more burdensome for the poor. Individuals with criminal backgrounds may be barred from obtaining employment. In addition, military families that are more mobile are disproportionately affected.”

Years of Fighting for Reform

Brigitte Nzali, owner of African & American Braidings, Inc. in Gloucester Township, New Jersey, says she has been fighting to reform hair-braiding regulations for nearly two decades.

 “I have been dealing with this issue for almost 18 years now,” Nzali said. “I have a business management degree, and I decided to study the market. I realized that everybody that I know in the community had to fly to Philadelphia and even New York just to have their hair braided.”

When she immigrated to New Jersey and became a naturalized citizen, Nzali says she saw a need for hair-braiding services and decided to open a business to fulfill that demand.

“I’m an African—I know how to braid, it’s the culture,” Nzali said. “My mom braids, and since I was born we were braiding. I’m like, ‘Oh, this is a good business that I can focus here in the community, and that way people don’t have to travel everywhere to have their hair done,’ so I decided to open a braiding salon.”

Fought at Every Turn

When New Jersey government officials aren’t ignoring her attempts to educate them about deregulating hair-braiding, they are actively fighting those efforts, Nzali says.

“I’ve been fighting,” Nzali said. “I wrote to the governor. I wrote to the previous governor. The previous governor heard about my involvement in this issue and appointed me to his board to help for braiding. The board rejected my appointment because you have to go through legislation and all that. In between that, they’re still fining me.”

Timmons says occupational licensing is often supported by industry insiders in order to preserve their hold on markets and prevent newcomers from entering the field.

“Professional associations are always the fiercest lobbyists for licensing legislation,” Timmons said. “Cosmetologists have a lot to gain from maintaining the status quo and limiting competition.”

‘Not a Binary Choice’

The market can often regulate at least as effectively as government, Timmons says.

 “Regulating occupations is not a binary choice between occupational licensing, the  strictest form of regulation, and no regulation at all,” Timmons says. “There are a number of alternatives, including shop inspections or private certification. With hair-braiding, it may be sufficient to simply allow the market regulate the profession. Online rating services can provide consumers with information on good and bad hair braiders. Hair braiders providing poor quality service will not be in business for very long.”

Vows to Keep Pushing

Even though New Jersey lawmakers have refused to reduce the regulatory burdens on her community and profession, Nzali says she wants to work with elected officials to help promote equality and prosperity for the state’s African-American community.

“I want to help them to improve braiding,” Nzali said. “I’m not here to challenge them. I’m here to help the state. I’m here to make it right, because, this state, I love it. I live here, it’s my state, I’m a United States citizen, I love my country of residence now, this is my country of naturalization. Even though I was born in Africa and grew up in France, I love this state.”