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Guest Commentary

Don’t expect logic when it comes to jobs in Iowa


Government exists for a variety of reasons, and one of the chief reasons is protecting people’s health and safety.

Keeping competitors out of your business shouldn’t be one of the reasons.
But in Iowa, that’s not really the case. There are too many examples written into Iowa’s laws and regulations that certainly appear to be little more than protectionism for businesses.

A couple of examples:

Yolanda Dings, 38, a black woman
in Des Moines, wants to help support her family by braiding the hair of other blacks. She doesn’t want to cut their hair. She doesn’t want to use chemicals to give customers a “perm.” She just wants to braid their hair in the African style.

But under Iowa cosmetology
laws, she has to graduate from a cosmetology school, where she would receive 2,100 hours of training at a cost approaching $20,000. One pertinent detail: There’s no requirement for those schools to teach students how to braid black people’s hair.

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There are a couple of businesses that have opened in Des Moines in recent months where women can have their hair styled and blow-dried. No hair is cut. No hair is colored. No perms are given. Busy customers just get their haired styled and dried.

But the Iowa Legislature has shown no interest in allowing people to braid hair or blow-dry and style hair without an Iowa cosmetology license.

The state has no business deciding who can and cannot work in this state without having very good reasons. Does anyone really think the public’s health and safety are in danger when their hair is being braided or when someone is blow-drying and brushing their hair?

Even more baffling is this nugget from Iowa’s cosmetology law: You have to have a cosmetology license to style wigs.

And how is that requirement protecting anyone’s health and safety?

Iowa politicians from both parties give lip service to helping the economic vitality of the middle class. And Republicans are zealous about getting rid of what they see as burdensome government regulations.

But politicians’ actions don’t match their words.

Earlier this year, a bill was introduced in the Iowa House to exempt African style hair braiding from Iowa’s cosmetology laws. But Republicans who hold a majority in the chamber never brought the proposal to the floor for a vote.

The Institute for Justice is a civil liberties group in Washington, D.C. One of its lawyers said the hair braiding requirements like Iowa’s are “wholly irrational.”

“Hair braiding using no heat or chemicals poses absolutely no threat to public health or safety,” attorney Paul Avelar said.

A study by the Institute for Justice found that Iowa has some of the nation’s most intrusive job regulations. Close to one-third of Iowa workers need permission from the government before they can do their jobs, the study found.

Only six states license more occupations than Iowa does, and no state requires more training for a cosmetology license.

The institute said that in Iowa, dental assistants, massage therapists, hair-braiders and cosmetologists all need more training for their state licenses than emergency medical technicians who provide life-and-death care.

Rather than unlicensed hair braiders, the health of far more Iowans is in danger if restaurant kitchen workers don’t follow the proper food safety protocols. But those employees don’t need Iowa licenses.

There’s much irony in Iowa’s approach to jobs, and it’s time for Gov. Terry Branstad and the Legislature to bring common sense to these laws and regulations.

The company building a huge fertilizer plant near Fort Madison recently received another $25 million in government incentives for adding 11 jobs to the projected workforce.

That brings the total government aid to $570 million — about 30 percent of the plant’s cost.

In contrast, lawmakers turned their backs on dealing with illogical job regulations that keep Yolanda Dings from braiding hair unless she pays about $20,000 in cosmetology school tuition.

How does this make sense? CV

Randy Evans is a former editor of the editorial pages at The Des Moines Register. He can be reached at


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