Minnesota lawmakers exempt freelance hair and makeup artists from licensing

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Freelance hair and makeup artists will once again be allowed to book weddings, proms and other at-home services without a full cosmetology license, under a measure that won final approval in the Legislature Sunday.

The legislation, which passed both chambers with broad bipartisan support, reverses a 2018 decision by the state Board of Cosmetology requiring thousands of hours of costly training for stylists who are paid for freelance hair and makeup services.

The bill now awaits a signature from Gov. Tim Walz.

Sen. Karin Housley, a St. Marys Point Republican sponsoring the legislation, said the board’s decision to “arbitrarily” update the requirements “stripped these men and women of their livelihoods.” Some freelance make up artists reported being hit with cease-and-desist letters and steep fines following the change.

“These are the hair and makeup artists we hire for weddings, proms, and photoshoots — not cosmetologists that work in a salon,” she said. “They don’t work with chemicals or cut hair; there’s no reason they should be subject to such an extreme regulatory burden, especially when it does not appear to have been done in good faith.”

The new provision permits freelance stylists to apply makeup and wash or style hair without a license as long as they complete a four-hour safety course. A full license is still required for more involved services typically offered at salons, including haircuts and facials.

Debbie Carlson, owner of the Minneapolis-based beauty school Faces Etc of MN, said the measure would provide needed clarity and relief for an estimated 1,000 freelance beauty artists in the area. Carlson, a leading advocate for the proposal, said many of her former students felt defeated and overwhelmed after the board issued its bulletin. Some canceled plans to attend her trainings, citing fears they would not be able to book private clients without spending more time and money on a full license.

Economic uncertainty and cancellations of weddings and proms amid the coronavirus pandemic had made things even worse. While many salons prepare to reopen as soon as next month, freelance artists remained in limbo.

“For us, in particular, we felt like our life was canceled,” she said.

Now, if Walz signs the bill into law, they can prepare to offer at-home services when restrictions lift. Carlson said her phone has been “blowing up” with calls from former students since the bill passed the House 128-4 on Sunday. Some were sobbing from excitement and relief.

“We’ve got gloves ordered. We’ve got masks ordered. We’ve got our hospital-grade disinfectant for our products,” she said. “We’re ready to go and we’re so grateful.”

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