By NORMA LOVE
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Anyone handy with scissors and a blow-dryer could set up shop in New Hampshire without the state’s formal blessing if an effort to eliminate education and licensing requirements for a host of occupations is successful.
Cosmetologists, barbers and a handful of others in state-licensed occupations would no longer need to go to school or get a license to work under the bill facing a vote in the House early next year that makes the licenses voluntary.
Derrick Freeman, a 22-year-old unlicensed hairdresser from Keene, said his customers’ satisfaction should determine if he can work, not a state license.
Freeman faces fines and potentially jail time if police enforced the state law against him for snipping hair without a license.
“I’ve not harmed anyone. I have a growing list of satisfied customers. I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong,” Freeman said.
But licensees like Nashua cosmetologist Pam New say that their training protects the public which trusts the state to regulate the industry. New says hairdressers use powerful, caustic chemicals like bleach that can cause scars from burns if used incorrectly. Consumers assume cosmetologists are trained and licensed now, she said.
“God forbid if anything happens,” she said. “Literally, we could make bombs with these chemicals.”
The bill would deregulate occupations including landscape architects, court reporters and massage therapists. The bill also would repeal state regulation of hawkers, peddlers, itinerant vendors and athletic agents.
About 144 different occupations are regulated by New Hampshire by requiring a license, certificate or registration, according to Katrina Evans at the state Department of Employment Security.
Most of the debate over the bill has focused on the largest group it targets: the 23,000 licensed cosmetologists, barbers and estheticians working in 2,000 shops across the state and whether training should be required to work in the field. Cosmetologists are required to take 1,500 hours of classes to get a license in New Hampshire. The typical cost is $12,000 to attend cosmetology school. The state also allows apprenticeships of 3,000 hours over 18 months under a licensed operator. All states currently have similar license requirements.
Rep. Spec Bowers, the prime sponsor, believes the bill will pass the House, which would reverse a trend of adding to occupations the state regulates. Its fate in the Senate is uncertain.
“The licensing structure we have in place is there to protect consumers and we’ll be watching this bill as it makes its way through the Legislature,” said Colin Manning, spokesman for Democratic Gov. John Lynch.
Supporters argue requiring licenses squelches competition and hinders job growth.
“They talk about the reason for licenses is to protect the public. The main reason is to protect the trade from competition,” said Bowers, R-Sunapee.
Bowers said opponents are trying to scare the public into believing only trained and licensed cosmetologists can shampoo and color hair without harming them.
“People are putting these chemicals on their heads themselves,” he said. “What’s more dangerous – a chemical shampoo on someone’s head or bacteria in food. We do not license cooks.”
Bowers has the support of the national, not-for-profit Libertarian law firm the Institute for Justice, which has sued states over licensing requirements ranging from requiring hair braiders to go to cosmetology school to Louisiana’s insistence that monks from Saint Joseph Abbey in Saint Benedict, La., be licensed funeral directors and learn mortuary science to legally sell handmade wooden caskets.
“The New Hampshire Legislature is on the cutting edge of ridding itself of some of the silliest types of occupational regulations,” said Lee McGrath, legislative counsel for the firm.
McGrath argues that competition does more to protect the public than licensing occupations because the public stops going to businesses that provide poor service.
McGrath said New Hampshire is one of the most regulated in the country.
“(Licensing) is an ineffective screen for fraud and incompetence, but it is a very popular screen among license holders and trade associations. License holders love licensing laws because they shrink the number of competitors and allow licensees to charge a premium in their prices that range from 15-25 percent higher,” he said.
Brent Farrell, a 44-year-old licensed cosmetologist from Sunapee, sides with McGrath and Bowers on making licenses voluntary. Farrell believes talent with hair isn’t something everyone can learn from attending school.
“Some people are not book-smart. There are people who are talented and people who are not,” he said.
Farrell does believe hairdressers should be trained in handling chemicals, but that the salon owner or individual operator should assume that responsibility.
Freeman said in the two years he’s been in business he has not colored hair. He said he learned to cut it from friends who dropped out of cosmetology school. His customers know he isn’t licensed but like the $8 price for a cut, he said. He believes government should stay out of his business – including his wallet – if he isn’t hurting anyone. Freeman said he doesn’t file a tax return for the same reasons.
“I don’t see how a non-customer should have any input into my business,” he said.
But Katie Wantuck, executive director of the state Board of Barbering, Cosmetology and Esthetics, said government is protecting the public’s health and safety. License holders are required to learn – among other things – about bacteria, sanitation, skin diseases, lice and chemicals used in coloring and straightening hair, she said. She rejects the notion that licenses hinder competition.
“There’s practically a salon on every corner in the cities,” she said.
New, who is president of the New Hampshire Cosmetology Association, said the training could save lives. She recently spotted a cancerous mole on the back of a customer’s head. New also notes that unhappy customers can complain to the board, an avenue they won’t have with unlicensed operators.
Gary Trottier, owner of the New England School of Hair Design in West Lebanon, sees the bill as a Libertarian experiment that would disrupt a system that is working well.
“If people put an ad in the paper after watching a YouTube five-minute movie and say, `OK, I can straighten hair,’ someone is going to get hurt. No doubt about it,” he said.
Bowers sees it differently.
“If there’s a willing provider and a willing customer who knows the provider does not have a piece of paper, what right does the state have to interfere?” he said.