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Point of View: Oklahoma law forces small businesses to fire workers until they learn someone else’s job

Shazia Ittiq learned to thread in Pakistan when she was 14 years old. She learned from a friend, like many women in Middle Eastern and South Asian communities. After she came to the United States to pursue a better life, she started working as a threader in Oklahoma City in 2001 and later opened her own threading salon. For more than a decade, she and other experienced threaders provided affordable, high-quality threading services to Oklahomans without issue. But in 2012, the Oklahoma State Board of Cosmetology and Barbering imposed a rule that only licensed estheticians or cosmetologists could perform threading services.

This meant Shazia’s most experienced, skilled threaders would have to stop work, spend thousands of dollars on at least 600 hours of cosmetology schooling, and pass two exams — all to perform the threading technique they had already mastered. To make the situation more absurd, the schooling and exams threaders are required to endure do not teach or test threading, the only service the workers provide.

Threading is a safe, gentle grooming technique that involves nothing but a strand of cotton thread twisted around itself and brushed against the surface of skin. And yet, as the Institute for Justice found in its License To Work study, threaders in Oklahoma — the state with the eleventh most burdensome licensing obligations nationwide — must spend more time training than EMTs, animal trainers and breeders, bus drivers, mobile home installers, fire alarm installers and other workers who perform more complicated or dangerous jobs.

Indeed, the required schooling for threaders occupies more than half the time police cadets spend in the academy. And research has shown that the heightened barriers to entering the workforce — which licensing laws create — disproportionately affect low- and middle-income workers. Small businesses like Shazia’s cannot afford to lose their most talented threaders. After all, licensed estheticians who know how to thread are few and far between; most have no training or experience in threading, and none received training in cosmetology school. It should be no surprise that, when choosing services, consumers prefer online reviews over measures like government issued licenses.

For these reasons, Shazia and the Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit against the cosmetology board for depriving threaders of their rights, under the Oklahoma Constitution, to earn an honest living free from regulations that have no real and substantial relationship to public health, safety, or welfare.

This isn’t the first lawsuit of its kind. Similar licensing requirements for threaders in Texas, Arizona, and Louisiana inspired constitutional challenges from threading entrepreneurs. In Texas, the state supreme court declared the licensing law unconstitutional, and Arizona and Louisiana removed the licensing requirements for threaders. In Oklahoma, the senseless occupational demands are equally unjustified.

If the state can get away with imposing license requirements as irrational as those it has imposed on threaders, Oklahomans in every occupation should be deeply concerned at how far the state can go in trampling their constitutional right to earn a living.

Marie Miller, attorney with the Institute for Justice