Lawmaker seeks to untangle regulations on African-American hair-braiding

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When the Indiana General Assembly started regulating hair-braiding salons in 1997, Nicole Barnes-Thomas lost her job, her apartment and, quickly, her life unraveled.

Once self-sufficient, she struggled to find work for about a year, then took an office job, though she says it’s not what she’d prefer to do.

“It was devastating to say the least,” said Barnes-Thomas, who saw Indiana’s strict regulation of an African-American tradition as being culturally insensitive at the least and economically devastating at most.

But now Barnes-Thomas has a new ally, one who may seem unusual in these politically polarized times. A white conservative Republican lawmaker from Elkhart, Timothy Wesco, has taken up her cause of hair braiding, a move that is being repeated across the country.

Already, 20 states have ceased regulating the practice, and bills are pending in Missouri, New Hampshire and New Jersey.

Hair-braiding salons are just one of many businesses Republican lawmakers are hoping to deregulate, with Indiana lawmakers considering changes in the licenses of psychologists, mental health counselors and social workers. But hair braiding, which has been an African tradition for thousands of years, is an industry with a nontraditional constituency for most Republican lawmakers.

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Written by USA TODAY NETWORK – Fatima Hussein

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