A Peek inside the Board of Barbers and Cosmetology

One might imagine that a meeting of the Virginia Board for Barbers and Cosmetology would be a pretty dull proceeding. But The Virginia Mercury found the board discussing some issues that, to my mind, point out the absurdity of a system that allows established practitioners of a profession to regulate themselves — and others who might compete with them.

The article in the Virginia Mercury is the first in an occasional series exploring some of Virginia’s “more obscure” state boards and commissions. It sounds like a promising endeavor, and I hope future articles are as illuminating as this one.

One issue discussed at the most recent board meeting entailed the low pass rate on the state’s “barbering theory” test — 39%. The rate had declined noticeably and was “substantially lower” that that of other states.

Stephen Kirschner, a state regulatory administrator, theorized that test takers were tripping up over questions about wigs. Wigs aren’t part of Virginia’s barber curriculum but the board voted in 2016 to start using a generic test used by other states, which include the topic. Another possibility, he suggested, is that Virginia barbering schools are just doing a lousy job.

Another hot topic was newly enacted legislation that deregulates blow-dry bars in Virginia. There are services, apparently, where people can go to get their hair washed, styled and dried — not cut — before a big event. Formerly, people doing the blow drying had to be fully licensed cosmetologists. No longer. This news “literally prompted gasps from the audience.” Reports Virginia Mercury:

Jay Deboer, the director of the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation, tells the board that the Koch Brothers and their push for deregulation in statehouses around the country is at least partially to blame. He says a group they fund advocated for the legislation during session this year and notes that other legislation proposed would have eliminated the board, its regulations and its licenses entirely.

“I don’t need to tell you that there’s a deregulatory fervor sweeping the General Assembly,” he says. “They say our rules and regulations are barriers to the profession, and there’s truth to that: they are barriers to enforce safety and professionalism.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Who can possibly doubt that the licensing of barbers in Virginia is run for the exclusive benefit of the current practitioners of that profession? Why on earth would a would-be barber need to study and answer questions about wigs? Why would someone need a state license to blow dry hair? Why do we need exams and licenses? Aren’t barbering and cosmetology bodies of practice that people can learn perfectly well through apprenticeships? If someone wants to boast about his “certification” — hey, I passed this rigorous training program — fine, let them earn that credential voluntarily to win business. Otherwise, I’m in total accord with the Koch brothers on this one.