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Michael Halmon: Deregulation bill would put Florida dead last in cosmetology safety standards

“In the age of social media, those predictable horror stories would spread faster than a nail fungus.”

It’s appropriate for state lawmakers to consider the proper role of government and eliminate excessive regulations that hold back Florida’s economy.

At the same time, it’s essential that elected leaders preserve the fundamental responsibility of government to safeguard citizens and avoid actions that have unintended consequences.

Shortsighted legislation currently making its way through the legislative process would violate both of these principles by introducing a safety threat and aggravating the very problem it purports to correct.

The professional deregulation bills – SB 1640 and HB 27 – are being promoted as making it easier for people to enter the workforce as barbers or specialists in skin care and nails, supposedly eliminating barriers to entry into these professions.

However, these bills would actually increase the barrier to entry and would put the public at risk of illness and injury from undertrained practitioners by giving Florida the lowest training standards in the nation for barbers, esthetician, nail technicians, and full specialists.

This legislation would reduce the number of hours needed to work as a barber to 600, less than half the national average.

Within that limited time, students would have to learn fully about safety and sanitation, including preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and fungal diseases and recognizing potential skin and scalp conditions – all while also studying the fundamentals of hair cutting and styling, performing delicate chemical procedures, and following applicable laws and rules.

There are more than 14,000 cosmetologists in the Tampa Bay area, working with more than 40,000 professionals and salons licensed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation in the region.

Rather than making it easier to gain entry into these professions, reduced standards would create a serious financial and practical impediment. For instance, the proposed reduction in training hours for a full specialist, someone able to do both skin and nails, would eliminate the possibility of a Pell Grant – $5,000 in free federal money that many students use to fund their education.

Salon owners will also be less inclined to hire Florida-educated barbers, knowing that they are under-prepared to be successful, favoring practitioners properly trained in other states.

Spas, medical practices, and cruise lines that employ skin care specialists will not compromise on a high standard of excellence and would be reluctant to hire Florida-trained individuals.

And tourists have a right to expect the same level of training from a hair, skin, or nail practitioner in Florida that they enjoy back home. It would be a black mark on Florida’s important tourism industry if we developed a reputation as the place to avoid salons and spas because of incidents of disease and bad practice.

In the age of social media, those predictable horror stories would spread faster than a nail fungus.

Lawmakers must work to find sensible solutions to pressing problems, but this legislation is a poorly conceived fix in search of a non-existent problem. Florida should continue to set the standard for excellence in all things and not be the low bar for skin, hair, and nail professionals.

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Michael Halmon is the President of the American Institute of Beauty, which has locations in Largo and St. Petersburg. He is also the current Chair of the American Association of Cosmetology Schools.

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