June 16, 2021
Lawrence, US 94 F
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Kirsten Kuhn: Rep. Amyx is just protecting his cut (Column)

Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns and letters to the Times written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

Recent proposed barbering legislation in the Kansas statehouse, while providing few positive changes, continues the tradition of protectionism in the skin of paternalism. 

This bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Amyx, would modify current barbering regulations throughout the state. It is no surprise to anyone who views the situation from an incentive standpoint that these occupational licensing laws only serve the interests of a few, at the expense of community members’ needs and desires. This game is rigged to protect the current industry interests, extract money from the populace, and pry unnecessarily into the private lives of citizens.

If people want to supplement their income by offering a service to willing clientele, the state has no business imposing upon that consensual transaction. 

Take, for example, a lady down your street who has a decent ability to cut, dye, perm, or otherwise modify hair. You know and trust her, and would like to pay her for her time and effort. Current (and proposed) legislation says that she must pay hundreds of dollars to the state, spend at least 1,200 hours of her time, and sit for two tests before you and your neighbors can have your bangs trimmed. 

For many people, these requirements can be insurmountable. People with fewer resources often do not have the time and money to jump through these hoops. Those who already occupy this space are determining who their competitors can be. It’s gatekeeping at its most destructive.

Under the guise of public health concerns, officials create regulations that are often arbitrary, always financially burdensome, and sometimes entirely irrelevant to the service they are attempting to regulate. 

Yes, proper sanitation in beauty work is important. But in this day and age, most everyone (providers and clients alike) is inclined to take extensive measures to ensure cleanliness. People demand evidence of it, in fact. If they have concerns, they go elsewhere. 

Further, the argument that people cannot safely use chemicals falls flat in the face of a whiff of scrutiny. We all regularly handle potentially toxic chemicals in the form of drain cleaner, paint thinner and other common household supplies. Service providers would read the label and act appropriately, as most of us do. The idea that razors or scissors are an outsized safety risk is likewise laughable. We all use these regularly and somehow manage not to grievously harm others when we do.

On a positive note, the proposed legislation does strike the “good moral character and temperate habits” requirement for licensing of barbers. Such arbitrary language can be challenging for an applicant to navigate, and can exacerbate discrimination within the system. Who is determining appropriate morality, and under what circumstances, has the power to prevent people from entering the market for potentially dubious reasons. My definition of good moral character probably does not align perfectly with yours. It definitely does not align with some random restrictionist regulator empowered by Topeka.

HB 2419 additionally retains the power to impede individuals convicted of any felony or misdemeanor involving illegal drugs, which impacts already marginalized communities. If you can buy your way out of a conviction, you’ve got an advantage over those who can’t. And those who live in certain communities are more likely to be targeted for some of these morality-based laws than those of a higher socioeconomic status. This is a double whammy that disproportionately prevents certain people from entering the field. 

The ability to raise fees is a significant part of this. If they’ve never had to do it previously, and suddenly want the power to now, it’s a clear indication that they intend to use it at some point in the future. Who grants themselves power with no expectations of using it? Fees will be raised, further limiting the average Kansan’s ability to enter the market.

The vast majority of occupational licensing laws only hurt those most in need of options and flexibility. People are capable of making their own contractual arrangements without interference from the state. Indeed, it is endowed within them to do so. Mike Amyx should sponsor legislation to allow more Kansans access to this market. But he won’t, because he’s a third-generation crony.

— Kirsten Kuhn (she/her) is a super awesome Libertarian porcupine residing in Palmyra Township. She believes in personal freedom and self-determination for all people and enjoys gardening and beekeeping in her spare time. She can be reached at douglascountylibertarians@gmail.com or @KSLibertarians on Twitter. 

Related story via Kansas Reflector:

March 11, 2021: House committee considers new barbering regulations, banning misuse of barber poles

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