A proposal passed by the state Senate last week, which is pending approval by Sununu, would update the state’s occupational license laws to exempt services “provided without remuneration” from license requirements for barbering, cosmetology, and esthetics.
Under current law, cutting hair without a state license is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $2,000 or one year in prison.
The law covers other professions and bans anyone from hiring a person “to engage in a practice regulated by this chapter, unless such person then holds a valid license or a temporary permit issued by the board to practice the respective profession.”
While the law is meant to prohibit unlicensed barber shops and other underground operations, it also means that cutting your neighbors’ hair could technically get you arrested.
The regulations became an issue during the pandemic when barbershops and hair stylists were forced to close to prevent spread of the coronavirus, leaving people with few options to get a haircut.
It’s not clear that anyone has been charged, but lawmakers who proposed the changes saw the antiquated law as an affront to the Granite State’s “Live Free or Die” motto.
Rep. Carol McGuire, R-Epsom, the bill’s primary sponsor, said during the pandemic the law turned people trying to help family, friends or neighbors into criminals just by cutting their hair or trimming their nails.
“That generated a fair amount of ridicule that they were criminals by getting their hair cut by a neighbor instead of a licensed professional,” McGuire said during a hearing on the bill in February. “Right now, our laws do not make any exemptions on this criminality. It’s a crime to cut your baby’s fingernails.”
The measure was opposed by cosmetology groups, who argued that it would provide an opportunity for unlicensed barber shops and other illegal businesses to proliferate.
McGuire disagreed with that argument, saying the changes to the occupational laws would essentially mean “if you’re not getting paid, it’s not a crime.”
The bill’s passage was praised by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity New Hampshire, which called the changes a “sensible step to eliminate the criminalizing of cosmetology without pay.” The group urged Sununu to sign it.
“Tens of thousands of Granite Staters engaged in criminal activity last spring when people cut family members’ hair without a license after barber shops and salons were forcibly closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting government orders,” Ross Connolly, the group’s deputy state director. “Getting a government permission slip to cut a friends or loved ones’ hair is absurd and needs to be changed.”