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Abolish Mandatory License for Shampooing Hair? California Lawmakers Will Consider It.

Unfortunately, California’s Sunset Review process rarely leads to the sunset of anything.

One of my favorite Ronald Reagan quotations illustrates the problem of an ever-growing government: "Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this Earth!" In my decades covering public agencies, I can think of only a handful of rollbacks—and they usually ended up perversely expanding government power.

In one recent case, the Legislature gutted a state tax board, known as the Board of Equalization. But its powers merely were shifted from elected officials to bureaucrats in different agencies—and now California taxpayers are more frequently getting the shaft. That's how government works.

Last week, a simple bill (sponsored by my employer, the R Street Institute) would have rolled back licensing requirements for only one of the hundreds of trades and professions that require a state license to work. Burdensome education requirements, fees and testing become obstacles for lower-income people to get gainful employment that doesn't involve flipping burgers. The requirements often have no relevance to public safety, but usually are the result of powerful interest groups that use government to lock up some part of the market.

Last year, Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa), introduced a bill that would have eliminated such requirements in a variety of fields, but it was a non-starter given its broad scope. It was referred to multiple committees and dead on arrival. This year Sen. Mike Morrell (R-Rancho Cucamonga) introduced legislation that targeted one particular—and particularly ridiculous—set of licensing rules involving people who want to shampoo, arrange, dress, and curl (but not cut) hair for a living.

If you shampoo hair for pay at, say, elderly people's homes or at a salon—and haven't spent as much as $19,000 at a barbering and cosmetology school—then you are an outlaw. It's illegal to do so in California. The Board of Barbering and Cosmetology posts this Frequently Asked Question on its website: "I would like to hire a person for the sole purpose of shampooing or preparing consumers services; can I do this?" The answer: "No, only a licensed barber, cosmetologist or apprentice can wash a consumer's hair or prepare a consumer for services."

Did I mention that a shampooer needs 1,500 hours of training, whereas a first responder/emergency medical technician only needs 120 to 150 hours of training? The Morrell bill passed the full Senate with only two "no" votes, but was killed last week in the Assembly Business and Professions Committee on a 14-3 vote in spite of the fact that most of us have shampooed our own hair for years without calamity.

The hearing room was packed with students from local cosmetology schools. It should surprise no one that the main beneficiaries of the current rules are the schools that charge hefty tuitions for such training, nor should it be a surprise that the state bureaucracy (the Department of Consumer Affairs) estimated excessive fee-revenue losses if the bill became law. Those estimates are hard to fathom given how unimaginable it is that people currently go through the whole licensing rigmarole and then only use the degree mainly to shampoo and arrange hair.

But government agencies see any kind of minor regulatory rollbacks as a threat to their authority. There's always that fear of the slippery slope. There's also an economic term known as "regulatory capture." It's typical in all aspects of government for industries that are being regulated to dominate the agencies that do the regulating.

The main argument that the Assembly Business and Professions Committee Chairman Evan Low (D-San Jose) used to oppose the bill is that the issue can be handled in the forthcoming Sunset Review hearings. The Assembly and Senate business and professions committees hold these annual hearings in the fall to "discuss the performance of the boards and make recommendations for improvements," according to the legislative website. The term "sunset" comes from the legislation, which would sunset the many boards out of existence unless they justify their existence.

This is one of those cool ideas that sounds much better in theory than in reality. Government agencies should indeed have to explain what they do to stay in business. But California's Sunset Review process rarely leads to the sunset of anything. S.B. 999's opponents note that the review led to legislation last year that eliminated the Board of Guide Dogs for the Blind. That was a welcome development, but the elimination of that pointless board was backed by regulators and the industry itself.

By contrast, S.B. 999 is opposed by the beauty industry and the bureaucracy. Nevertheless, I'll take legislators at their word and closely watch as they advocate for the end of onerous regulations that benefit business owners at the expense of aspiring low-income workers. Wouldn't it be great if California's Legislature turned out to be the exception that proved Reagan's rule?

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. He was a Register editorial writer from 1998-2009. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

Photo Credit: Marc Romanelli Blend Images/Newscom

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  • Citizen X||

    I look forward to California's eventual law requiring you to have a license to shampoo your own hair. It's the only way to be safe, obviously.

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    Our boys in blue will probably need cameras installed in every shower to enforce that one.

  • Citizen X||

    Obviously.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Hey, but my hair is up here!

  • Cy||

    They need to keep those illegals from taking dur jobbbbs!

  • Shirley Knott||

    I'm not so sure it's all about the threat to their 'authority'.
    It's more venal and much pettier than that; it's much more a matter of preserving the bureaucracy.
    If we eliminate licensing, we eliminate licensers and all the ancillary staff.
    Some manager's fiefdom becomes smaller.
    This is not something bureaucracy is designed to encourage or permit.
    "It's all about the jobs. Lots of people get paid to do this, do you want them unemployed?"

  • Citizen X||

    This. One of the things Marx's historical progression got wrong is how quickly socialism (which, of course, was never going to "wither away") devolves back into feudalism.

  • Cy||

    Nepotism reigns supreme in both government and corporate America.

  • Migrant Log Chipper||

    Those boards (IIRC about 150 of them) contain members picked by the guvnah and I believe both the majority/minority leaders so there were lots of favors doled out. They'd meet a couple times a month and they got paid 100-150k a year 10 years ago when I worked in Cali.

    One example in Humboldt County: State Sen gets termed out, doesn't want to run against incumbent (both D's) who will term limit out in 2 years, finagles board appointment to tide him over while he raises campaign cash and waits for Assembly seat to open up. IIRC correctly it costs the state several hundred million to pay these useless fucks. It really is unbelievable. Too bad because I really liked Cali north of the Bay area, great country and not many people at all.

  • Jerryskids||

    But government agencies see any kind of minor regulatory rollbacks as a threat to their authority. There's always that fear of the slippery slope. There's also an economic term known as "regulatory capture." It's typical in all aspects of government for industries that are being regulated to dominate the agencies that do the regulating.

    The primary function of any system, regardless of its stated goals or mission, is to perpetuate itself.

    And I still cannot fathom the people whining about Net Neutrality - you wanted the government to regulate the internet "in the public interest" and now you've got the FCC and Ajit Pai regulating the internet, are you happy? Why, no, you're whining and crying even harder, wailing "This isn't what we meant!" Well, some of us were warning you that this was the way things work. We tried pointing out the incoherence of your arguments that the government should protect us from the Evul KKKorporashuns while at the same time bemoaning the fact that the Evul KKKorporashuns run the government. What the fuck did you think was going to happen?

  • Cy||

    It'll be different this time!

  • Earth Skeptic||

    "Logic is hard!"--Anti-fa Barbie (TM)

  • Robert||

    The main argument that the Assembly Business and Professions Committee Chairman Evan Low (D-San Jose) used to oppose the bill is that the issue can be handled in the forthcoming Sunset Review hearings.


    Because, later in the year, we can do this good thing, provided it manages to get onto our agenda, we shouldn't do this good thing now that it's on our agenda. So the bill isn't even tabled; the subject is just expected to come up in a later hearing.

  • Longtobefree||

    Those estimates are hard to fathom given how unimaginable it is that people currently go through the whole licensing rigmarole and then only use the degree mainly to shampoo and arrange hair.

    Really? Can you fathom how someone would borrow tens of thousands of dollars to get a degree useful only for McDonalds and StarBucks?
    I

  • Whorton||

    As I understand it, California is going to start taxing farts at the rate of $2.00 per pop. Their contribution to global warming must be controlled. It has also been proposed that beans are going to be taxed heavily as contributory.

    Even the Illegals will flee for this . . .

  • Devastator||

    While this law is stupid, is there really any hair salons out there who are hiring people just to wash hair. I mean I just don't believe that is a "thing". That said my wife should be in jail. She cuts my hair every month or two with the "sheep shears"

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