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Barber shops rent to freelancers while salons miss out

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(The Center Square) — Cosmetologists could soon stand on equal footing with barber shops across the state.

A law that allows barber shops to rent space to freelancers, but prohibits salons from doing the same, has drawn attention from state legislators – and they want to see it changed.

Senate Bill 830, introduced by Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Reading, would repeal the prohibition on renting booth space in cosmetology salons.

“Barbers do have the opportunity to freelance in other barber shops or to move from location to location; they’re not restricted by having to be part of a salon per-se,” Schwank said. “I don’t really know why barbers have that opportunity and cosmetologists don’t, but it seems unfair to me.”

Detractors have raised concerns over safety, liability, and a loss of unity in salons.

Renting out booth space, though, wouldn’t become a free-for-all. To ply their trade in the commonwealth, cosmetologists are required to earn 1,250 hours of schooling and get licensed.

“These individuals have been educated and have, certainly, the qualifications to earn a license … I would believe that they’re receiving the guidance that they need to understand all the implications, the safety guidelines, in terms of being a cosmetologist,” Schwank said. “I don’t want to upend any safety regulations, trust me.”

Experts who worry about over-regulation see the bill as a step forward.

“The beauty industry is overly burdened with unnecessary licensing requirements which inhibit opportunities within the field,” said Jessica Poitras, legislative counsel at the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm. “Pennsylvania has high requirements for beauty professionals who provide limited services, high training hours for traditional programs, unattainable apprenticeship program requirements, and needless facility prohibitions.”

Reducing burdens on beauty professionals, she said, could create opportunities for workers and customers alike.

“The bills being advanced are based on safe and proven means of reform,” Poitras said. “These are commonsense actions that will have huge impacts on Pennsylvania’s beauty industry – specifically for women, persons of color, and lower to middle income workers.”

Last year, a bill in the House aimed to exempt some cosmetologists from licensing requirements for similar reasons, as The Center Square previously reported. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Dawn Keefer, R-Dillsburg, died in committee.

Other bills have been introduced this session to loosen restrictions and expand education for high school students interested in a cosmetology or barber career.

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