Industry Legislation

Board Blues

What proposed changes in California could mean for the industry.

A board, a bureau, a board, a bureau … Changes proposed for California’s beauty industry could sweep away its board once again. The experience of other states seems to show, however, that the regulatory structure may not be as important as the caliber of the people who work within it.

With more than 369,000 professional beauty licensees,including 79,664 nail techs, the Californiabeauty industry is the largest in the nation. Sowhen the state governor proposes changing the way thatindustry is regulated, the rest of the country takes notice.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to slash billions ofdollars from a bleeding budget by overhauling California’sbureaucracy. Among the proposed changes: eliminatethe state’s Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, andput its job under a giant regulation department alongwith dozens of other industries.

If this proposal goes into effect next July, it would bethe fifth time in nine years that the state has changed itsoversight system. Regulation would continue, though thedetails of how remain fuzzy.

Those who favor the change say problems could be solved more quickly.

“The board structure makes it very difficult to know who should be held accountable for failures. Who do you order to fix it? There should be a short line of command between the governor and the regulators,” says Russell Heimerich, spokesman for the California Performance

Review commission charged with reorganizing andstreamlining the state’s bureaucracy.

Others argue that precisely that kind of structure haslet the industry suffer in neglect.

“In reviewing this industry and its history, taking awayits status as a board would be a move in the wrongdirection,”says Della Condon, a cosmetologist, teacher, andmanagement expert who heads the current state board.

In other states, both structures have worked, experts say. Their success, it seems, depends more on the energy, focus, and commitment of the people who carry out the work than the structure they work under.

The consequences of the California proposal, if put into effect, are difficult to predict. The new director would still face the same issues that press the state’s beauty industry now.

 Proposal Eliminates Board, Not Regulation

 The debate in California centers on the best way to regulatethe industry. Do you have a system ofshared governmentlike a board, where experts from that industryoversee the writing andenforcement of regulations? Ordo you have a top-down approach, like the one being proposed,with a manager who may consult with industry experts,but who has the freedom to quickly make decisionson his own?

Boards filled with experts became popular forms of governmentin the late 19th century. They were a way to takedecision-making away from corrupt elected officials. Acentury later, Gov. Schwarzenegger’s California PerformanceReview panelists concluded that these boards mayhave their own political interests.

“Board members can be unduly influenced by the industrythe board is supposed to regulate, accepting lax standardsinstead of protecting consumers,” their report says.

The best way to make regulators accountable, they argue,is to put them under the governor’s direct control.

“The way we looked at it is this: There are 323 stateboards and commissions with regulatory functions. Howmany of them do we really need?” says Heimerich.

It’s unclear exactly how regulation would continue under the proposed re-organization, or whether testing and licensing would continue as it does now, Heimerich says. Enforcement would come under a separate umbrella department, perhaps something like that currently done in Oregon, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, experts say.

Board President Condon says the current board has been working hard in the last year to address issues that had been neglected under the kind of system the review commission proposes. She served on advisory boards when the industry was regulated by a bureaucracy, and calls those systems “wholly inadequate.”

“The bureau structure was headed by an individual who did not have any background in the cosmetology profession,” Condon says. “We were advising more enforcement, greater levels of consumer protection, cracking down on licensing and illegal businesses, speeding up the student exam. None of that was ever addressed.”

Since reviving a year ago, the board has pushed to hire new examiners, and a testing backlog of 11,000 applicants has been cut to size. New regulations allow out-of state licensees to enter the workforce quickly. Seven new inspectors have been hired. Requirements for cosmetology teachers are being updated. The different beauty occupations are being analyzed to update curriculum requirements. Condon herself has met with people who had information about fraud.

For this work, board members receive $100 for each day of official meetings and travel expenses. And it has taken no money from the state’s general fund; fees make the board self-supporting, Condon says. “It’s a shared governing structure. It involves the people who are being governed by the board. It’s truly the town meeting form of governance,” Condon says.

Not everyone, however, is happy with the board’s performance. The Professional Beauty Federation of California, a trade group representing all sectors of the state’s beauty industry, had pushed the Legislature to return to a board system for years. But now, lobbyist Fred Jones says the board should be swept aside.

He cites problems the board has notdealt with, even though attention tothem has been mandated by law. Thoseissues include studying the growth ofbooth rentals and putting more emphasison the practical demonstrationin the state examination.

“We ought to give this new administration an opportunity to prove that their reorganization proposal will bring a streamlined, coherent, and accountable system of governance over our industry,” Jones says.

 Colorado’s Bureau: The Buck Stops Here

 Colorado’s state board was dissolved in 2000 after a sunset review, and replaced with the Office of Barbering and Cosmetology, run by lawyer Kevin Heupel. Since his appointment, Colorado has become a model of progressive regulation that meets the industry’s changing needs, says Nancy King, an industry consultant and president of the Association of Electric File Manufacturers.

“I’m not in any way against boards.Sometimes it’s just faster to get thingsdone when there’s just one personthere,” King says. “He can make changesthat would be more rational and easierto enforce. That, ultimately, offers ahigher level of consumer protection.”

Heupel has a background in consumerprotection and advising stateregulatory boards. He says the formercosmetology board was good at dealingwith people who broke the rules.But they were slow to address changein the industry.

“The regulation had fallen behind … The professionals that were on the board just assumed everybody was keeping up to date, and were probably not as focused on the consumer,” Heupel says.

Heupel came on board in 2002 and wrote rules to require specialized certification for advanced procedures, such as using electric drills. He streamlined the process for people coming into Colorado with out-of-state licenses. He rewrote the regulation to focus on sanitation and public health, and cut nail polishing from the practical exam.

“One difference between the board model and the director model is you know who’s responsible,” Heupel says. “You can’t blame your problems on the anonymous board.” Nancy Lease agrees that this system can work when the right person is in charge. She’s president of the Colorado Beauty Federation, an association of the entire beauty industry, and vice-president of the American Association of Cosmetology Schools.

“There are pros and cons to both sides,” Lease says. “(Heupel) has been able to make some changes that we have needed in Colorado for a long time. Because he does not have to go through

the process of the board, he can proposea rule and move forward with it.”

But those in the industry must work harder to communicate with the regulators and educate them about their needs. Under the manager-run system in Colorado, a rule can be adopted without even notifying the industry, Lease says. “The pros of a board system is the industry itself has oversight responsibility. Communication tends to be strong,” she says.

 Ohio’s Board: The Buck Stops Here, Too

 Ohio is another state where regulation keeps pace with the industry, King says. But there, the changes are taking place under a board system. “If anything goes wrong, it’s my fault because I’m the executive director and everybody works for me,” laughs James Rough of the state’s Board of Cosmetology.

Under the board’s direction, thisformer Navy commander with managementexperience has focused onusing computer technology to improvesystems and customer service.

New rules let spas serve food. Testtakersget their results the same day insteadof after two weeks.Within twoyears, applications, renewals, and paymentwill be available on-line. Computerizedlicenses and photographswill allow a photo-identification licensethat can be issued on the sameday the test is passed.

The regulatory structure is not as important as the people doing the job, Rough concludes. “Get somebody in there who’s doing a good job and let them do it. The how isn’t as important.You have to have consistency and everybody focused on getting the job done,”Rough says. Rough suggests that more changes in California can only hurt the industry. “To keep changing the process and flip flop creates havoc for everyone,” he says.

Vigilance and Commitment Needed

 Some people worry that a change inCalifornia’s giant beauty industry couldprompt movements to sink boards inother states. But the real impact nationallyremains unclear.

Nationally, beauty professionals get nervous whenever politicians review the industry’s oversight, says Jill Kohler, senior business manager for the Professional Beauty Association (formerly BBSI). They fear that people who don’t understand the complexities and health implications of the industry could try to get rid of licensing altogether.

“There’s a cultural attitude that comes when you have somebody who’s not connected to the vibrancy of our industry,” says Kohler.

Condon says she hopes her stateboard will be able to continue with thereforms it has started. If the board canprove its effectiveness, it may survive,experts elsewhere say. “We’re not readyto go through another experiment inthis industry,” Condon says.

Regardless, the industry in California and elsewhere will continue to face pressing issues.

Salon cleanliness remains a topconcern for OPI chief operating officerEric Schwartz, who also is co-chairof the Safety and Sanitation Committeefor the Nail Manufacturers Council.And he wonders how the state willpromote safety in an industry whereso many technicians speak a foreignlanguage. Other concerns include enforcementand the number of inspectors,continuing education, productsafety reviews, and the availability ofconsumer information.

 Ohio’s Rough suggests the stateits computer technology to make testingand issuing licenses easier and faster.

“Regulations need to be written inplain language that people understand,”adds King. “It would guide people towardsafer services.”

Lease urges associations and individualsto get involved in the regulatoryprocess.

“Regardless of the model, the industry has been far too complacent to make sure we get what we need to assure client safety,” Lease argues. “Associations must take charge. They should be a watchdog for anything that happens on a state or a federal level.”

What’s Being Proposed

The proposal to change California’s government would combine regulation of many industries into a Department of Commerce and Consumer Protection. (The full report by the California Performance Review panel is posted on

Four divisions would handle oversight. The Division of Commercial Licenses would take over the job of the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology. It would oversee 16 other industries too, including auto repair shops, hearing aid dispensers, harbor pilots, and horse-racing tracks.

The proposal does not include a permanent advisory board. It does recommend the department secretary meet with the public and industry representatives “to gather information and guidance” as needed.

Other offices in the department would handle information requests, applications, testing, and issuing of licenses for all industries. Employees could move around to the administrative area with the greatest need. The department secretary would be responsible for coordinating these services.

The board’s 18 inspectors would work for a separate umbrella policing agency,the Department of Public Safety and Homeland Security. That department wouldhandle enforcement of all laws now handled by the state’s 31 policing agencies.

With all state policing under one roof, review commission spokesman Russell Heimerich, explains, “If there is an outbreak of violence or a terrorist attack, they can pull resources from other areas.”

The separate Office of Management and Budget would review and approveregulations and handle appeals.

The review commission held public hearings on the changes in August andSeptember. Their final recommendations go to a second review commission, whichhas 30 days to accept or reject the plan.

That second commission can recommend changes to the Legislature. Then, the Legislature has 60 days to act on those recommendations. If the Legislature does nothing, the proposal becomes law on July 1, 2005.

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