July 19, 2016 Print

Occupational licensing requirements put government in the business of picking winners and losers, artificially propping up current practitioners at the expense of newcomers. In Tennessee, for instance, the state Board of Cosmetology requires 300 hours of training and up to $3,000 in tuition simply for a license to shampoo hair. The state of Tennessee is impeding its citizens’ ability to earn a living, which is why Atlas Network partner the Beacon Center of Tennessee is working to overturn the restriction.

Tammy Pritchard, a resource officer at a high school in Memphis, would like to supplement her income by washing hair in a friend’s salon in her spare time. The training and expense requirements, however, are prohibitive. Compounding this burden is the fact that there are no schools in the entire state of Tennessee that offer the course required to fulfilling the requirements of the hair-washing license.

“That means that unless you already have a hair washing license from years ago or from another state, you are unable to wash hair in Tennessee without obtaining a cosmetology license, something that requires 1,500 hours of schooling and costs as much as $35,000 in tuition,” the Beacon Center reports.

Although such licensing laws are often passed with the argument that they protect consumers, in practice they protect established businesses and industries from lower-priced competitors — thereby harming both consumers and those who are prevented from entering a new profession without leaping over arbitrary regulatory hurdles.

“We took on Tammy Pritchard’s case because Beacon believes that citizens have the right to earn a living without unnecessary government involvement,” said Justin Owen, president and CEO of the Beacon Center. “Ultimately, occupational licensing laws are hurting people across the country like our client Tammy, and by filing suit against the state in this shampooing case, we hope not only to win the case in court but also to bring attention to the effect these unnecessary regulations have on everyday people.”

The Buckeye Institute, another Atlas Network partner based in Ohio, recently had a major victory when a similar burdensome licensing requirement for Ohio cosmetologists was unanimously eliminated with a 90-0 vote in the House and a 32-0 vote in the Senate, suggesting a strong potential for bipartisan efforts to reduce the number of unnecessary hoops citizens must jump through just to make a living.

“Many Tennesseans are unaware of how ridiculous many state licensing laws are, and this case is just the beginning of Beacon’s educational effort to show exactly how unnecessary these regulations often are,” Owen said. “This is an opportunity for the right and left to come together to fight against the government’s intervention in the lives of people who just want to work.”

The Beacon Center is arguing its case on multiple legal grounds, including Tennessee’s constitutional prohibition against monopolies.

“Because no school offers the shampooer curriculum, no one else may become a shampoo technician who is not already licensed as one, meaning that the state has created a monopoly for existing license holders,” the Beacon Center explains.

The organization is also challenging the law through the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law and its requirement that laws must serve a legitimate purpose.

“There is no legitimate purpose like protecting health and safety in this particular licensing law,” the Beacon Center continues. “Nor does the training and licensure accomplish any legitimate goal. There is not a single school that offers that training anywhere in the state, the training is irrelevant, and it places an unwarranted hardship on low-income individuals who wish to earn an honest living.”

The case, Pritchard v. Board of Cosmetology, has received widespread attention, being covered in such outlets as the the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, Reason, the Tennessean, and the Knoxville News Sentinel.