Cosmetology licensing amendment curls hair among community members

A bill that would ease licensure requirements for cosmetologists sparks public debate.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, in the Senate Chamber, Feb. 20, 2020. Bramble is the sponsor for SB87, a cosmetology licensing amendment which has sparked controversy in the community.

A bill on its way to the full House would change cosmetology licensure requirements and is the subject of controversy and protest among some community members.

SB87 “creates an exemption from licensure under the cosmetology act for an individual who only dries, styles, arranges, dresses, curls, hot irons, shampoos, or conditions hair,” so long as that person receives a hair safety permit, and the business displays a sign informing the public he or she isn’t licensed.

Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman and House sponsor of the bill, told a legislative committee this week that the bill would still require unlicensed cosmetologists to complete an online hygiene and sanitation course for shampooing, conditioning, blow-drying and styling — essentially, the same services they’d be allowed to perform without an official license.

The committee voted 10-5 to pass the bill after a lively debate.

Industry concerns about the legislation include diminished business prospects for licensed cosmetologists and health hazards for cosmetology clients.

Gentry Leonard, a cosmetology student at Murray’s College of Essential Beauty, worried the bill might incentivize businesses not to hire as many licensed cosmetologists because they would be more expensive to employ. On the other hand, she said this bill could incentivize employers to underpay unlicensed employees.

“It’s just kind of not beneficial for anyone in trying to get a job in cosmetology, on either side,” she said.

Abby Evans from the Utah Beauty School Owners’ Association said that the bill “diminishes the value of my clients’ education, skill and profession.”

But Bill sponsor Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, doesn’t see pay discrepancies between licensed and unlicensed cosmetologists as a point against SB87 — rather, that’s the product of a free market. Across all industries, more training leads to higher pay, he told The Tribune, and the government shouldn’t intervene to stop the market from making those determinations.

“The cosmetology industry says that this will destroy their profession,” Bramble said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Without the licensure requirement, cosmetologists who want a serious career in the field would still have plenty of incentives to pursue a license to earn higher pay for their work, Bramble said, while people doing the work as a side job or just testing the field before committing to a career wouldn’t face the steep costs of cosmetology school — ranging from $5,000 to $20,000.

Evans and Christina Thomas, operator of 19 salons in Utah, both pointed out that licensure exemptions already exist for paid, supervised cosmetology interns and anyone wishing to style hair without compensation.

Thomas also said she didn’t think online sanitation training would be sufficient to teach cosmetologists to recognize scalp diseases or bugs, such as head lice, which pose a health threat to clients.

Proponents of the bill see it as a check on government red tape around business practices. Pierucci pointed out that Gov. Spencer Cox has asked the Legislature to examine licensure requirements for “undue burdens” and “over-regulation” of private businesses; this bill is intended to do just that.

“It’s an opportunity … of looking at an area where we may be overregulating and requiring additional requirements on people that don’t necessarily need that amount of hours to safely fulfill that role and provide those services,” she said.

Connor Boyack from libertarian The Libertas Institute agreed, praising SB87 in his comment to the committee as “a good free market bill” that would sidestep government protectionism.

Hair stylist Sarah Clark also spoke in favor of the bill, arguing that allowing unlicensed cosmetologists to practice would prove a financial boon to those just beginning their careers in the industry.

She said that while she understands other cosmetologists’ concerns that this bill would “cheapen” the license for those who get it, she doesn’t feel the same way.

“If anything, I believe the public will begin to appreciate my license more,” she said.

Bramble, a certified public accountant, said licensing should be about safety, not about “government protectionism.” People shampoo, condition, blow-dry and style their own hair in their homes every day without a license, he noted, because those activities aren’t dangerous.

“We had this debate of braiding, I think three years three or four years ago, that you could only braid hair if you were a trained cosmetologist,” he told The Tribune. “We heard that the sky would fall, we heard that disease would be rampant, that there would be blood in the streets if individuals could braid hair without being licensed, and that didn’t come to fruition.”

Leonard, the student who spoke at a peaceful protest against the bill Jan. 31, told The Tribune she felt the argument over government protectionism was missing the point.

“I can definitely see where [Bramble] is coming from, for making it more easy for businesses to hire people,” she said. “I just think that that’s not the issue in this problem. I think the issue is making it more affordable for people to get this training and education.”