by Jennifer Tiedemann

New Jersey hair braiders faced a setback this past Monday at the hands of Governor Phil Murphy: Gov. Murphy conditionally vetoed a bill that would have allowed hair braiders to more easily work in their chosen profession.

Since 1984, New Jersey hair braiders have been required to obtain a cosmetology license in order to braid hair. But in the years since then, braiding has emerged as a popular practice separate from hair styling and coloring, rendering the need for braiders to get extensive cosmetology training unnecessary. The just-vetoed bill would have exempted hair braiders from this requirement. It had been embraced by state legislators, receiving unanimous support from the New Jersey Assembly and Senate. It boasted a bipartisan contingent of co-sponsors, with ten Democrats and four Republicans sponsoring the legislation.

In a statement justifying his veto, Gov. Murphy acknowledged that current licensing requirements “may prevent many from engaging in the practice of hair braiding” and that lessening the licensing burden on hair braiders would “expand economic opportunities for African-American women [and] immigrants from African and Caribbean countries”—the primary providers of hair braiding services. But Gov. Murphy urged that the desire to increase economic opportunity ought to be tempered by the need to protect consumers.

That would be a noble sentiment—if hair braiding actually posed any threat to consumer health or safety.

New Jersey is home to some of the most burdensome occupational licensing requirements in the country. The state ranked 47th in the Cato Institute’s just-released “Freedom in the 50 States” report (only California, Hawaii, and New York ranked lower). One of the reasons for its nearly rock-bottom ranking? The report says that in New Jersey, “occupational licensing is more extensive than average.”

And when it comes to obtaining a license to braid hair, “extensive” is a pretty perfect way to describe the requirements. To get a license in the Garden State, hair braiders must currently complete 1,200 hours of training, which can cost around $17,000 in total. (To make matters worse, most of this training doesn’t even cover topics germane to hair braiding.) Braiders caught operating without a license are hit with dislocating fines.

Gov. Murphy argued that hair braiding training is needed in order to teach “sanitation, decontamination, and infection control”—but hair braiding is safe and natural. Hair braiders braid hair. They don’t work with bleaches, dyes, hot tools, or even scissors. Requiring a license to braid hair is less about protecting public health and safety and more about restricting economic opportunity for hair-braiding entrepreneurs. Many states don’t believe hair braiding poses health or safety risks that would require practitioners to get a special certification from the government: According to the Institute for Justice, 25 states exempt hair braiders from licensure. New Jersey is one of just 13 states that require a full cosmetology license to braid hair.

As part of his conditional veto, Gov. Murphy recommended that the number of training hours be cut significantly, to a maximum of 40 hours for those with hair braiding experience and a maximum of 50 hours for those without experience. While such a change would significantly ease the time commitment needed to obtain a license, the fact is that NJ hair braiders would still need to be licensed in order to make a living. And any hair braiders found operating without a license would still be treated like criminals instead of the entrepreneurs they are.

The Goldwater Institute has been working to urge more rational approaches to occupational licensing across America. Earlier this year, we filed an amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case of two Missouri hair braiders challenging a state licensing requirement for their profession, on the grounds that such a requirement has nothing to do with protecting public safety. The Court has yet to make a decision on whether it will take their case.

Gov. Murphy said in his veto statement, “In order to create a stronger and fairer New Jersey, it is important to remove or reduce barriers to economic opportunity.” He’s absolutely right about that: Doing away with the red tape hindering hair braiders is just common sense. But while it’s heartening that Gov. Murphy recognizes that existing licensing requirements are major hurdles for NJ hair braiders, it’s disappointing that hair braiders will still face time and money constraints and potential fines–all for wielding just a comb.

Jennifer Tiedemann is the communications manager at the Goldwater Institute.