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Dallas Hair Braider to Sue Over Regulations

A well-known Dallas hair braider, whose clients include Erykah Badu, is suing Texas, arguing the state is violating her constitutional rights with onerous requirements for operating a school to teach hair braiding.

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Isis Brantley has been braiding hair for more than 30 years, and she wants to pass her trade on, teaching others the techniques she has used on clients ranging from musician Erykah Badu to homeless Dallas residents.

When she contacted the state earlier this year to find out what she would need to do to start teaching hair-braiding from her south Dallas shop, she was shocked. Officials told her she would need to attend 2,250 hours of instruction and open a 2,000-square-foot facility to comply with the Texas Barbering Administrative Rules and the Texas Occupations Code.

On Tuesday, she will file a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, alleging in federal court that the state’s rules violate her constitutional right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment. Brantley will ask the court to exempt her from the regulations and grant an injunction preventing the state from applying the rules to other hair braiders.

“This lawsuit means economic liberty for my community,” Brantley said in a statement. “Economic liberty is especially important for black women. This is our new civil rights movement.”

An official at the state regulating agency acknowledged that the rules for barber schools could be difficult for hair braiders to comply with.

It’s not the first time Brantley has been in court over her hair-braiding career. She was arrested in 1997 for braiding hair without a state license, which required 1,500 hours of education. She challenged the license law, and the training requirement was reduced in 2007 for hair braiders to a 35-hour certificate.

While Texas law now only requires a 35-hour certificate to work as a hair braider or to teach hair-braiding as an instructor at an established school, there is little under state law that separates hair-braiding schools from professional barber schools, so many of the same requirements apply to both.

Current law, Brantley said, would require her to obtain irrelevant instruction and pay for facilities and equipment that aren’t used for hair braiding, including barber chairs and wash stations.

Arif Panju, an attorney for The Institute for Justice Texas Chapter, a non-profit civil liberties law firm representing Brantley, said she now teaches braiding for free to students in her community, some of whom are homeless, and she wants to open her own school to expand that effort.

“A lot of these young ladies I found were homeless and jobless,” Brantley said in a YouTube video posted Friday. “I took them in, I trained them, gave them skills and now they have become entrepreneurs.”

The lawsuit will be filed against William Kuntz, executive director of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, which is charged with enforcing the requirements, and the Texas Commission of Licensing and Regulation, the agency charged with making many of the rules that govern hair braiders.

Elizabeth Perez, manager of the Barber and Cosmetology Program at the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, acknowledged problems with current regulations and said she didn’t know why the laws were the same for braiders and barbers.

“It could be a hardship for someone that just wants to do the braiding,” Perez said.

Panju said the outcome of the case could impact other fields with broad governmental restrictions.  

“If we win this case, it could have national implications, as it would stand for the right that individuals have to earn an honest living free from unreasonable restrictions from the government,” Panju said.

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