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The Utah Legislature is once again in a tangle over hair.

Lawmakers are considering legislation that would require a state license to braid hair but ease the regulations currently in place after a federal judge ruled the existing rule was too harsh.

However, opponents argued that there isn't a health or safety interest that demands the state regulate and license hair braiders.

Existing state law requires commercial hair braiders to receive 2,000 hours of training and be licensed by the state.

U.S. District Judge David Sam ruled in August that the state didn't show that there was a risk posed by one particular type of hair braiding, which he referred to as "African hair braiding."

Other types would still fall under the licensing requirements, however, and a bill presented Wednesday by Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, seeks to lower the requirement from 2,000 hours of training to 300 if practitioners want to do more than one style of braiding. If they only want to do one style of braiding, they would be exempt from licensure.

"We're left that African hair braiding does not require licensure, but other types of hair braiding for a fee does. Does that make sense?" Dunnigan asked. "I happen to think the bill is much better than the place we are now, which requires 2,000 hours."

The measure was approved by the Legislature's Business And Labor Interim Committee with two members — Rep. Derek Brown, R-Cottonwood Heights, and Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross — voting against it.

But Brian Greene, a candidate for the state Legislature, argued that unless the state can quantify the risk, government shouldn't regulate the practice at all.

"The objective of this regulation on cosmetology never has been about protecting public health or safety. It has been to protect an industry," he said.

And Connor Boyack, founder of the libertarian Libertas Institute, said that the government has no place intervening in a transaction between consenting parties unless data shows there is a public risk, which the state has not shown.

Brenda Scharman of the Utah Beauty Schools Association and the Cameo College of Beauty, said various kinds of infections and diseases, including flesh-eating viruses, can be transmitted by untrained braiders.

Candace Daly, a lobbyist for the association, said a Washington, D.C.,-based group, the Institute For Justice, has been shopping in numerous states for cases to try to strike down government licensing, including hair braiding and argued at a recent meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council that eliminating regulations is the best way to revive the economy.

Daly said regulations can be a problem for small businesses, but when it comes to braiding, "education is the key."

Twitter: @RobertGehrke