Occupational Licensing Case Entangles Iowa Salon Board

Published December 10, 2015

With the assistance of a national public-interest law firm, a Sudanese immigrant and entrepreneur is challenging the constitutionality of mandatory occupational licensing requirements for ethnic hair braiders in Iowa.

Achan Agit, whose family fled Sudan’s civil war in 2001, attempted to open her own salon in Des Moines, Iowa after working for years in a Kansas City, Missouri salon.  

Represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ), a public-interest law firm based in Arlington, Virginia, Agit is suing Iowa’s Board of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences, a government regulatory board organized under the state’s Department of Public Health, for the right to open her own business without explicit approval from government regulators.

Amy Frantz, vice president of the Public Interest Institute, a public policy think tank located in Iowa, says government regulators now play an important part in nearly every industry.

“There are 36 licensing boards in our state,” Frantz said. “These include medical boards, but we also have boards for cosmetology, barbers, interior designers, landscape architects, shorthand reporters, and others.” 

Asking for Permission to Work

Frantz says government bureaucrats have too much power over the state’s workforce.

“In Iowa, 33 percent of our workforce is required to get a license by the state, which is the highest percentage in the nation,” Frantz said. “Essentially, one-third of our workforce has to ask the government for permission to do their jobs, but there is a vast difference between a surgeon cutting me open and someone just braiding my hair.”

‘Ridiculous’ Licensing

Industry organizations have an economic incentive to use government to keep potential competitors away from their bread and butter, Frantz says.

“My understanding is that it requires about 2,100 hours of training to get a cosmetology license, involving thousands of dollars,” Frantz said. “Hair braiding is barely touched on in this training, so requiring hair braiders to get this license is ridiculous. The cosmetology board is obviously made up of cosmetologists, and it is in their best business interests to limit the competition. Less competition results in higher prices you can charge your customers.”  

Chasing Dreams

Meagan Forbes, an Institute for Justice attorney representing Agit, says the state’s protectionist licensing rules are unconstitutional.

“The basic legal issues involved are the right to pursue your calling, free from irrational occupational licensing laws under the Fourteenth Amendment and under the state’s constitution,” Forbes said. “We have been taking a stand for the right of braiders across the country to earn a living free from irrational cosmetology licensing laws.”

Tony Corvo ([email protected]) writes from Beavercreek, Ohio.

Internet Info:

B. Peter Pashigian, “Occupational Licensing and the Interstate Mobility of Professionals,” National Bureau of Economic Research: https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/occupational-licensing-and-interstate-mobility-professionals/