Aaron Rice, guest columnist

Posted April 11, 2021 at 5:57 am CT


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Mississippi Clarion Ledger

You may never have threaded your eyebrows or extended your eyelashes or put makeup on your face. So why should you care that Governor Tate Reeves is likely to soon be signing laws that will allow people to provide these services without a license?

Licensing laws don’t seem like a pressing problem, but overregulation of the service industry is causing real damage to our state.

Excessive licensing laws have cost the state money an estimated 13,000 jobs. That said, we could hire nearly three times as many people as we did at the Nissan plant by eliminating unnecessary laws, and it wouldn’t cost taxpayers a penny.

Aaron Rice (Photo: Submitted / Special at Clarion Ledger)

The costs of excessive licensing fall disproportionately on the poor, minorities, and Young people looking for a start in life.

Eliminating unnecessary licenses is sad easier said than done. These exceptions were only worked out after brave entrepreneurs sued or threatened to sue the state over their right to work.

One of these lawsuits was filed by Dipa Bhattarai, an international student. She has been threading for most of her life – removing stray hair with a twisted cotton thread. It is a safe and common technique that originated in South Asian countries such as their home country, Nepal.

Bhattarai saw an opportunity to pursue her version of the American dream and opened Deeva Brows and Beauty, a threading studio with locations in Columbus and Starkville.

Then the cosmetics authority – our state’s eyebrow police – forced them to shut down. She hadn’t paid thousands of dollars to take 600 hours of classes to get a license. The kicker? The required classes don’t even teach about eyebrow threading.

Bhattarai worked with the Mississippi Justice Institute, a nonprofit constitutional litigation center that I work for question the constitutionality of the law. Ultimately, instead of continuing to defend it in court, the state decided to withdraw and repeal the law.

Dipa Bhattarai learned how to thread eyebrows in her native Nepal. Thursday 8th August 2019. (Photo: Sarah Warnock, Clarion Ledger)

But the Cosmetology Board kept trying to shut down other niche beauty companies. This time they sent the Eyelash Police to Amy Burks, owned by Lavish, an eyelash extension lounge in Madison.

Eyelash extensions are available in self-adhesive strips in most retail stores. In recent years, however, many customers have started paying eyelash technicians to apply individual false eyelashes, resulting in a more natural look. This is a time consuming and tedious process, but it is safe and easy to learn.

Mississippi law doesn’t require a special license for eyelash technicians, but that didn’t stop the cosmetics authority from interpreting the law so they can still request a license.

Again there is a kicker. If you suspected that the required classes didn’t even teach about eyelash extensions, you are on the right track.

After seven years of safely and openly running her business, Burks was issued a quote for running an unlicensed salon.

Burks also partnered with MJI, which posted a letter to the board threaten to file another lawsuit. The state again decided to change the law rather than face a lawsuit.

It took another lawsuit to pave the way for Mississippians to apply makeup without a license, despite hundreds of millions of people applying makeup without formal training every day.

After years of improving her skills, Karrece Stewart started Get Glam Beauty, a makeup store in Fulton. She teaches make-up techniques and would like to be able to apply make-up for clients too. However, this would require a license.

Make-up is a very small part of required training that is mainly focused on skin care and hair removal. And since applying makeup isn’t dangerous, this coursework isn’t required to avoid real damage.

Stewart filed her own lawsuitThis time she ran a private law firm that was willing to help her for free. And the pattern continued. Instead of defending the untenable, the state decided to change the law.

This year’s exceptions isn’t the first time Mississippi has had to change its cosmetics laws in response to litigation. In 2005, the state braided hair the African style after Melony Armstrong, who lives in Tupelo, filed a lawsuit.

It’s encouraging to see the little guy – or, in these cases, the little girl – fight back and win. However, these small changes required litigation and front page news. Most victims of government overregulation suffer in silence. Mississippi’s elected leaders should continue look for ways to eliminate excessive licensing laws that keeps the American dream unattainable for so many.

Aaron Rice is the director of the Mississippi Justice Institute, a nonprofit constitutional litigation center and the legal arm of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.

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