Friday, November 30, 2012 | One comment

Utah’s Hairbrained Scheme To Protect Special Interests Needs To Be Upbraided

By Riley Risto

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A recent dust up in Utah courts pitted African hair braiding specialist, Jestina Clayton, against the State of Utah, over a current statute that requires 2000 hours of cosmetology coursework to become a licensed hair braider.  Clayton, 30, who learned how to braid at age five and has been practicing longer than most cosmetology students have been alive, won the case on the basis of her constitutional right to earn a living. The judge cited the lack of evidence for any threats to public safety as grounds for his decision.

Libertas Institute applauds U.S District Judge David Sam for this common sense and correct opinion.  In doing so we recognize that while many can see the restrictive absurdity in making a hair braider take 2000 hours of coursework, there are many who still believe that some licensure is necessary for hair braiders and other common service providers. Enter Republican Rep. Jim Dunnigan, who wants to “reduce” the licensure requirement to 300 hours despite a judge’s opinion stating no credible threat to public safety exists.  This all sounds well and good if all you’re trying to do is move the needle on bureaucratic overreach.  However, we interpret the judge’s decision as a mandate for the legislature to remove this particular licensure provision completely or supply evidence that there is a threat to public safety—something no lobbyist or special interest has been able to do. We therefore support legislation, which we expect to be introduced in the 2013 general session, that will require state officials to demonstrate a clear public safety threat prior to imposing such burdensome regulations.

Clayton’s case has exposed a single egregious example of state overreach and overregulation, but it also suggests that other similar statutes may exist. We are willing to give our legislators the benefit of the doubt that perhaps they were unaware of this burdensome statute, since it and many others are probably buried in the depths of obscure, outdated state code.  However, in view of our state’s reputation for conservative governance and given our state’s heavy conservative bent, it would seem a popular and appropriate opportunity to dig deeper into all existing occupational licensing requirements and identify cases where such regulation is not at all necessary, and inimical to individual liberty and free enterprise.

Capitulating to special interests or promoting the lesser of two evil propositions simply keeps the door open for future legislative abuses and further erodes essential freedom. Libertas Institute prefers a principled approach to governance and recommends the removal of all licensure requirements that do not quantifiably and demonstrably protect the life, liberty, or property of Utah residents.  In most cases the unintended consequences of licensure laws is ignored while legislators attempt to mitigate the most remote possibilities for abuse or harm in the marketplace.  Most recognize the need for reasonable protection of public safety.  Conversely, a nanny state can severely degrade the ethic of personal responsibility. So, what is the appropriate balance?

We recommend a bias towards personal, familial, and local responsibility whenever possible.  This long-practiced Utah ethic can shield society from many abuses and disasters where regulation often falls short.  It teaches individuals to provide for their own personal, educational, and economic well-being which is truly the best protection against abuse.  It’s time we start seeing with a wider angle lens the real consequences of bureaucratic overreach. We believe that a streamlined government will result in more jobs, better quality of life, and greater economic opportunity for all who live and work in this great state.

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About the Author

Riley Risto is Director of the Center for Free Enterprise. He holds a masters in business from Brigham Young University and works as a community banker. He is a passionate advocate of Austrian economics, outdoor enthusiast, husband and father of six children. He lives with his family in Midway, Utah.


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  1. […] instance, just last year, Jestina Clayton was told she could not braid hair for a living without a state-issued cosmetology license. This would have required 2,000 hours of schooling. […]

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