One of 2017’s most contested job licensing reforms was Legislative Bill 343, which makes it easier to start a career in Nebraska as a cosmetologist or barber.
Currently, these professional licenses take 2,100 hours to earn, which is among the nation’s most costly and time-consuming requirements. Training can cost over $20,000 and take over a year to complete.
LB343 would align Nebraska’s law with most states, at 1,500 hours.
Key opponents of the change in Nebraska include beauty and barbering schools, which profit from additional mandates placed upon students. Last session, pressure from these businesses kept LB343 stuck in committee.
But during the same legislative session in Montana—a state that previously required 2,000 hours for cosmetology licensing—a similar bill passed with overwhelming support from both parties.
Billings, Montana state Rep. Daniel Zolnikov (R) sponsored House Bill 393. He describes his proposal to reduce cosmetology licensing hours to 1,500 as an easy win-win, helping students avoid excessive debt while making his state more competitive nationally.
“The extra 500 hours were just completely unnecessary, and that means students are in school three more months, which means that they are going into debt for housing and food instead of making money,” said Zolnikov.
Surprisingly, in addition to House Bill 393 being signed by Montana’s Democratic governor, the state’s beauty schools were also in full support of the bill.
“The schools in Montana were very in touch with the students’ needs, and didn’t want to further burden them for their own financial gain,” said Zolnikov.
In a House legislative hearing remarkably similar to those in Nebraska, nobody testified against the bill, while the Montana Association of Beauty Schools and several instructors and administrators supported the legislation.
“There is no doubt in my mind that I can provide a quality education to any student who attends my school in 1,500 hours or less,” testified Raquel Oppenborn, an educator at Bold Beauty Academy in Billings, who has also worked in other states with less burdensome requirements.
Like Nebraska, Montana has many rural communities that may have fewer licensed cosmetologists and barbers. Zolnikov argues that reducing the cost and time it takes to get licensed will make it easier for rural practitioners to succeed.
“This helps rural communities because it will be more likely that people can do it. This creates opportunities for people in rural areas to actually go get their education and come back,” said Zolnikov.
When asked why Montana’s beauty schools were behind licensing reform and reciprocity, while Nebraska’s schools and licensing boards were denouncing the change as a threat to public safety, Zolnikov didn’t hold back.
“You’re facing a group of people who are literally lying. They’re literally lying to the committee, which I as a representative am not okay with,” said Zolnikov.
“For some reason, all these other boards across all these other states are doing just fine with 1,500 hours—less in some cases—and they’re getting all of these national requirements accomplished of what the students need to study,” said Zolnikov.
Defenders of Nebraska’s existing licensing laws have previously said the requirements are a Gold Standard for safety and professionalism. But in the Treasure State of Montana, things have panned out in favor of fewer barriers to work for beauty industry students and professionals.
As Nebraska’s Health and Human Services Committee continues its interim study on cosmetology and barbering licensing, Montana provides a great example of workers, businesses, and policymakers in both parties banding together to expand opportunity, instead of using licensing laws to stifle entrepreneurship.