Our View: Don't cut licenses

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State lawmakers are examining whether hair stylists, manicurists and others in the cosmetology trade need to be licensed by the state to work in beauty salons and barbershops.

Currently, cosmetologists have to undergo 1,400 hours of training to learn their trade and health and safety regulations. It's a big issue in Craig because Colorado Northwestern Community College has a cosmetology program that could become obsolete if legislators decide to deregulate the industry. The beauty school instructs about 20 students a year.

It's an interesting dilemma because it raises questions about how much government regulation is too much when it comes to small businesses. Market forces easily could dictate whether a person is qualified to cut hair. An unlicensed or untrained barber quickly would lose customers if he or she didn't give good haircuts. But it also would open the door for even more beauty salons, and there are already quite a few in Craig.

Those who have gone through the time and expense to become licensed cosmetologists want the laws left alone. We don't blame them. It seems unfair that they shelled out tuition to go to cosmetology school only to see their investment negated by a state legislature obsessed with finding ways to save money.

"Just like any other licensed profession, people with licenses want the licenses to stay," said Karen Stillion, an instructor at Colorado Northwestern Community College Cosmetology School.

State Sen. Ken Kester, R-Las Animas, has introduced legislation that would extend cosmetology licensing until 2015. The Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee passed the bill last week. It now moves to the Senate floor for consideration.

We hope lawmakers extend the licensing requirements; if for no other reason than it creates a system of accountability in the state. Pedicures, facials -- even haircuts -- expose customers to certain hazards. Shears can cut or pinch. Some of the most common safety issues concern bacterial infections. If cosmetologists don't properly sterilize their instruments, they could spread bacterial or fungal infections to their clients.

But the state doesn't heavily enforce the laws that are in place now. Although state employees inspect salons, they hardly ever drive to Craig to conduct inspections, local cosmetologists say. The result is many salons that are not up to code.

So local cosmetologists have to ask themselves what's better: licensing requirements with lax enforcement of codes or no licensing but strict compliance monitoring of codes? Either way, the state is unlikely to do both because it doesn't have money for more pressing concerns.

A five-member cosmetology advisory council costs the state about $4,000 annually. That's small potatoes to ensure that we have a measure of accountability in place.

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