In April of 2020, when barber shops and hair salons were closed and people resorted to cutting each other’s hair, we pointed out that this was technically a criminal offense in New Hampshire. 

Barber and cosmetologist licensing is governed by state law, and those laws are written not only to protect public health, but also to protect barbers and cosmetologists from competition.

RSA 313-A:9, part of the chapter governing barber and cosmetologist licensing, states: 

“It shall be a class A misdemeanor for any natural person, and a felony for any other person, to engage in any practice regulated by this chapter without the appropriate license.”

To translate that into plain English: Any person who cuts hair without a license commits a misdemeanor, and any company that has its employees do so commits a felony.

That language is clear and unambiguous. It is a crime to cut hair — even a family member’s or your own — without a license. 

(It’s also illegal to give manicures and pedicures or apply makeup without a license, as those activities are defined in the statute as falling under the definition of cosmetology, the practice of which requires a state license.)

Yet when we pointed out the plain fact that the law criminalizes regular practices that people do for each other every day, some state representatives and journalists said we were wrong. We were accused of stoking fears, and of misrepresenting the law. 

A year later, the Legislature has acknowledged that the law does, in fact, make it a crime to cut hair without a license. 

And it has passed a bill to change that.

House Bill 606, introduced by Rep. Carol McGuire, R-Epsom, simply inserts “for remuneration” into RSA 313-A:9 so that it reads: 

“It shall be a class A misdemeanor for any natural person, and a felony for any other person, to engage for remuneration in any practice regulated by this chapter without the appropriate license.”

HB 606 passed the House 200-166 in April. No one testified against the bill in committee. On Thursday, May 27, the bill passed the Senate on the consent calendar, which means it was considered so non-controversial that it was passed with a slate of other bills by voice vote with no debate.

If the bill becomes law, as expected, it will remove an offensive and absurd criminal penalty from the books. But the criminal penalty for performing unlicensed hair cuts for pay remains.

And it remains a criminal offense to perform other services without a license. There are criminal penalties for the unlicensed appraisal of real estate, unlicensed auctioneering, unlicensed junk or scrap metal dealing, and the unlicensed sale of lightning rods. 

(Legislators passed a bill in April to remove the entire section requiring a license to sell lighting rods. Gov. Chris Sununu signed the bill, and it takes effect next January.)

Removing the criminal penalty for doing your family’s hair and makeup is long overdue. But it’s a small step. Unnecessary criminal penalties remain woven throughout New Hampshire’s occupational licensing laws. And unnecessary occupational licensing remains rampant in general. Much more work is needed to remove needless, anti-competitive and economically harmful occupational licensing requirements.