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Another View -- Yvette McDonnell: Time for New Hampshire to loosen its braids

Some want to be veterinarians when they grow up. Others aspire to be pop stars, the President, even super heroes.

I wanted to braid hair.

I’m a mom (so I got to be a super hero after all,) a former educator, and an entrepreneur. I learned African-style natural hair braiding from my mom as a kid. And growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood meant that if I wanted my hair done for a school dance or even an everyday protective style, I couldn’t look much further than my own home anyway. But I loved it, and by the age of 8, I would practice braiding on everyone and everything: myself, my friends, even my Barbie dolls.

I knew braiding was what I wanted to do but I didn’t know if I could actually make a living out of it. Instead, I went to college, eventually earned my master’s, and began working in education. By this time, I had moved up north to start our beautiful family near my husband’s family in Brownfield, Maine, and was living comfortably. But I wasn’t happy. I wanted to love my job, too.

I wanted to start my own braiding business in Conway, N.H., which is near the state border and just 20 minutes away from my home in Maine. Although I live across state lines, I feel that Conway is my community. I do everything here, from grocery shopping to homeschool activities with my family. So I want to be able to work here, too.

Unfortunately, New Hampshire has some of the most burdensome requirements for braiders. Before I could twist even a single strand of hair legally, I needed a cosmetologist license. That meant I would need to complete either 1,500 hours of cosmetology training (which can cost nearly $20,000) or apprentice under a licensed cosmetologist for 3,000 hours. In other words, even though I’ve been braiding for years, none of my experience mattered to the state.

Braiding is not cosmetology. Braiding doesn’t include the cutting or dying of hair at all, and we don’t use heat or chemicals. It’s a safe, time-tested practice of twisting and wrapping hair.

The cosmetology curriculum in New Hampshire doesn’t even teach natural hair care. After being in school for so many years, I did not want to waste thousands of dollars on irrelevant training or be separated from my family for 1,500 pointless hours.

I want to be able to share my culture and experiences with my community without the threat of breaking the law, even one that doesn’t make sense. This is why I have teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ), a public interest law firm. Together, we are fighting for the rights of braiders across New Hampshire.

Under HB 82, new legislation introduced by Rep. Carol McGuire, the state would finally exempt braiders from cosmetology licensing. If the bill becomes law, it will mean that braiders can enter the workforce, provide for their families and contribute to their communities, instead of being kept out by overwhelming licensing requirements.

HB 82 is a common-sense reform. The bill already passed the House of Representatives last month, and the state Senate is expected to vote on it. Across the country, 21 states don’t require a license for braiders. After all, braiding hair naturally is safe, and there is no evidence of public health and safety issues in those states. But research does show that as licensing burdens increase, the number of legal braiders decreases dramatically. That’s because these types of laws destroy opportunities to start small businesses. New Hampshire’s law doesn’t make my business safer. It just makes it harder to start one.

It’s time for New Hampshire to value the economic liberty of braiders like myself and join the 21 states that do not license braiders. It’s time for New Hampshire to live up to its motto and let us live free.

Yvette McDonnell is a natural hair braider in Maine.

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