West Ashley cosmetologist fighting to keep her industry regulated 

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Lava Salon's Spencer Barnhart says deregulation of her industry would be a recipe for disaster

Jonathan Boncek

Lava Salon's Spencer Barnhart says deregulation of her industry would be a recipe for disaster

In February, an executive order by Gov. Nikki Haley created the Governor's Regulatory Review Task Force, tasked with proposing ways to deregulate South Carolina businesses. Now a local cosmetologist has started a petition on Change.org to keep her industry regulated, collecting nearly 500 signatures in two weeks.

"There's not a current bill going on right now," says Spencer Barnhart, a cosmetologist at Lava Salon in West Ashley. "But unfortunately, in most parts of the country, stylists are waiting until it's too late, until bills are being presented, and then they have to rush and push their voices through."

Haley's deregulation blitz goes back to 2011, the governor's first year in office, when she asked the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation for a report on undue and inefficient regulation within its numerous boards. In December 2011, then-LLR Director Catherine Templeton wrote back with a list of recommendations on how to reduce regulations not just for cosmetologists, but also for barbers, real estate professionals, vacation timeshare sellers, residential builders, foresters, geologists, wastewater treatment operators, water distribution system operators, soil classifiers, propane gas sellers, and auctioneers.

The report noted that cosmetologists had paid $1.7 million to maintain their licenses in Fiscal Year 2011, a sum that "bought bureaucrats, board travel, office supplies, lawyers, inspections, and investigations." According to the report, of the 4,626 cosmetology facility inspections conducted that year, only 5 percent resulted in citations, and 1 percent resulted in citations related to health or sanitation. In the end, the report recommended elimination of both the Board of Cosmetology and the Board of Barbers, leaving inspection up to the Department of Health and Environmental Control and certification up to private trade groups. The report did not provide suggestions on how to fund the additional inspections by DHEC.

"Their logic behind deregulating us is that we'll govern ourselves, which won't happen," Barnhart says. Currently, in order to get a state license, cosmetologists like Barnhart have to take 1,500 hours' worth of cosmetology classes (in Barnhart's case, she took them at the Paul Mitchell School in North Charleston). Under state law, those classes must include instruction on sanitation, professional ethics, anatomy, dermatology, use of hair treatment chemicals, bacteriology, and use of power equipment. Every two years, cosmetologists must take 12 hours of continuing education classes in order to renew their licenses.

The state of Indiana went down a similar path in 2011, when an appointed group called the Regulated Occupation Evaluations Committee recommended eliminating the boards overseeing cosmetologists, dietitians, hearing aid sellers, private investigators, and security guards. Republican state Rep. Dave Wolkins subsequently authored a bill to eliminate the cosmetology board, but after 29,000 people signed an online petition to keep cosmetology regulated and a host of cosmetologists showed up to testify in the Statehouse, Wolkins withdrew his own bill. "They were amazing," Wolkins said, according to the Evansville Courier & Press. "They won the day. They made their case." This February, a new bill passed the Indiana Senate to create the Eliminate, Reduce, And Streamline Employee Regulation (ERASER) committee, which would create "a five-year cycle for sunsetting certain professional licenses, registrations, and certifications." So far, a new petition repeating the demand to keep cosmetology regulated has garnered more than 14,000 signatures.

In South Carolina, Barnhart's petition has not gotten nearly as much traction yet, but Barnhart says Gov. Haley's push for deregulation would be disastrous for her profession. "It devalues our work," Barnhart says. "I can guarantee you that Nikki Haley would never go to any stylist that didn't have a license." Gov. Haley's press secretary did not respond to a request for comment.

To sign Barnhart's petition, click here.

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