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Little Rock Hair Braiders File Lawsuit Against the State of Arkansas

The hair braiders say their civil rights are being violated because the state requires excessive occupational licenses.
LITTLE ROCK, AR - Two local hair braiders are filing lawsuits against the State of Arkansas. They say their civil rights are being violated by the state forcing excessive occupational licensing laws against all hair braiders.

“Truly, truly it is a challenge braiding hair, but as a passion in life we just enjoy doing it," said Christine McLean. She opened LaBelle Professional Braids three years ago in Little Rock with only hopes of earning a living and making people feel good about their hair.

"Natural hair with a different look, different style," said McLean.

Normally her shop is filled with customers, but on this day, it was used as a backdrop for a news conference, announcing a lawsuit against the state.

Attorney Paul Avelar, with the Institute of Justice is representing Christine and another hair braider, Nivea Earl, with Twistykinks.

"The constitution protects everyone's rights to earn an honest living, free from irrational government regulations, Arkansas is forcing hair braiders to get a license, 1500 hours, costing thousands of dollars, that has nothing to do with natural hair braiding, cosmetology isn't natural hair braiding, natural hair braiding isn't cosmetology, Arkansas has lumped the two into one package and it just doesn't make any sense," said Avelar.

Christine says yes she has a shop, however, all she does is braid hair.

"They just don't know what braiding hair is, they're trying to make braiding as curling hair and using the chemicals, and we just want to make a point to really understand, even though we are working with hair," said McLean.

Attorneys working this case, have won two cases, had 6 legislative changes in laws in favor of hair braiders and one case pending. All those cases have been in other states and the attorneys hope to see things amended in the Natural State.

"I think Arkansas recognizes it has a problem and it has to change the law," said Avelar.

Meanwhile Christine has been fined thousands of dollars for not having a license.

"It makes me feel bad," said McLean.

And she could keep being fined with possible jail time.

The lawsuit also states during a February meeting of the Cosmetology Technical Advisory Committee, a lawyer for the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), admitted that Arkansas's cosmetology license requirement for hair braiders is unconstitutional.

We asked the ADH about the accusations. They told us they are going through the minutes of that meeting, and won't make any comments until they have looked over those notes, and the entire lawsuit.
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