Floor amendment filed by husband of cosmetology board chair tangles natural braiding bill in House

03/26/2016 02:04 PM

FRANKFORT — A bill that would eliminate licensing requirements for those looking to offer African-style natural hair braiding for pay became a tangled mess in the House of Representatives with a floor amendment that would, in part, require U.S. citizenship and a $1,500 fee to the Kentucky Board of Hairdressers and Cosmetologists.

The legislation, Senate Bill 269, seemed to be on the fast track for Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk, passing the Senate on a 35-0 vote March 18 and unanimously clearing both chambers’ licensing and occupations committees.

SB 269 had been set for a House floor vote Friday, but Rep. Hubert Collins — whose wife, Bea Collins, chairs the state hairdressers and cosmetologists board — tacked on the floor amendment Thursday requiring citizenship, a high school education and the $1,500 fee for a hair-braiding license. The bill was not called.

Collins, in an interview with Pure Politics, said he wants some mechanism to ensure those braiding hair for income are licensed.

“I just wonder what effect it will have if you allow an organization or people like that to do those hairstyles without having a license,” the Wittensville Democrat said after the House adjourned Friday. “You know, I can see where it would spread to other things and they would be allowed to do those without license where others that do that hair have to have licenses to do it.”

Asked directly about the U.S. citizenship requirement, Collins said he is flexible. Other licenses for cosmetologists, nail technicians, salon owners or cosmetology teachers require high school educations but not citizenship.

“The amendment is broad enough that it can be worked on,” he said. “… The main purpose is to have them to be licensed.”

An immigrant from Senegal, 17-year Louisville resident Kine Gueye, testified before the Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee earlier this month, explaining that she and others from Africa are looking to open legal natural-hair-braiding businesses. She said those who practice the cultural craft currently operate out of homes without legal protections if customers refuse to pay.

Gueye and other immigrants like her would not only be required to pay exponentially more than trained cosmetologists under the law in Collins’s amendment, but they would first need to pass a U.S. citizenship test, which costs $680 and concludes a lengthy naturalization process.

Collins’s floor amendment calls for a $1,500 free to the hairdressers board. By comparison, fees for cosmetologists and nail technicians cost $25 along with 1,800 hours of cosmetology school and six months apprenticeship, and 600 hours of cosmetology school, respectively. The board requires a $35 fee for licenses to open beauty and nail salons, plus annual renewal fees ranging from $20 to $35 for most licenses.

Collins said his wife had no input in the legislation.

“She has not spoke to me about it,” he said. “… None of the board has spoke to me about it, but I just seen where it said without license. That concerns me.”

Sen. Perry Clark, a Louisville Democrat who sponsors SB 269, declined a request for an on-camera interview Friday.

Rep. Reginald Meeks, a Louisville Democrat who’s shepherding the legislation through the lower chamber, said he will address the amendment when the bill is called for a vote if necessary “and trust that what I have to say about the amendment and about these families will carry the day.”

“I think most people understand are simply trying to live the dream that brought them here, you know, the one that we say we’re all about,” he said in a phone interview Saturday. “I think people will vote the right way, and I think the amendment will be seen for what it is.”

Meeks said he asked Collins to pull the amendment after it was filed, offering to work on a resolution with him during this year’s legislative interim. Collins expressed his licensing concerns, Meeks said.

He called Collins’s floor amendment “anti-business.”

“It’s overly burdensome,” he said. “It’s unnecessary, and it’s impossible to abide by because there are no cosmetology schools that teach this, so to require licensing by a cosmetology school that doesn’t teach hair braiding is impossible to meet.”

He added that for many immigrants in Jefferson County and elsewhere in Kentucky, natural hair braiding is a cultural craft.

“On the merits, I believe that right-thinking people are going to prevail, and I’ve tried talking with him on several occasions,” Meeks said.

“He has no African braiders, at least we’ve not been able to identify any African braiders who are looking to open businesses in Johnson County, so it means nothing to Johnson County residents, and it may mean nothing to residents in other counties that don’t have immigrant populations from west Africa. But it means a great deal to Louisville because they add a great deal to our cultural mix here, and that’s what I’m fighting for.”

Asked about any concerns he might have regarding Collins’s offering the floor amendment while his wife chairs the cosmetology board that would govern natural hair braiders, Meeks said he believes “that’s for the body to decide.”

“I’m going to lay out the facts for defeating the amendment,” he said.

Julia Crigler, state director for Americans for Prosperity, called Collins’s floor amendment an “outrageous last ditch effort” to kill the legislation, showing why nearly half of Americans distrust government.

“We have elected officials seemingly putting their personal interests, in this case his wife’s personal interests, ahead of regular people trying to contribute to their communities,” she said in a statement.

“Government should bring people together, not keep them down. We have worked with a coalition that bridges partisan and ideological lines because this legislation makes sense. It’s embarrassing for the state that one representative is attempting to block Kentuckians from becoming proud business owners only to pay fealty to a special interest.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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