GEORGIA DOESN'T need more laws to regulate cosmetologists, implementation of laws already passed to regulate this industry is the only issue.
So why is the Georgia General Assembly considering lowering education and safety standards for cosmetologists and hair and nail salons when implementation is the only issue?
This is the question on the lips of the Hepatitis B Foundation and many other Georgia consumers.
About four years ago, the State Board of Cosmetology and the Cosmetologist Association of Georgia initiated legislation that was long overdue in upgrading the education requirements for their profession.
After numerous hearings across the state and written testimonies from conscientious salons, cosmetology schools and consumer groups, Sen. Nadine Thomas, D-Atlanta, and I passed Senate Bill 95 (SB95) during the 1999-2000 Senate session.
SB95 WAS enthusiastically supported by the top cosmetology providers across the state. It required all cosmetologists to have a high school diploma and 10 hours of continuing education every two years. This was not an impossible, or even a very high standard for a such a profession.
Under the new law, the state board was instructed to oversee development of a curriculum that trained cosmetologists, hair stylists and nail technicians in the proper use of the newest methods.
SB95 also required cosmetologists and those working in hair and nail salons to obtain training in the use of complicated chemicals, and sanitation and sterilization procedures, as well as to receive education on the danger of blood-borne diseases. As many women and some men know from using the services of a salon, this is a very real concern.
The wheels of society would come to a screeching halt if laws are not implemented. Good laws bring order and protect society, thus avoiding harm. Therefore, it follows that no matter how many wise laws are enacted to protect cosmetologists and the public, implementation is the next crucial step.
SB95 was a practical, commonsense law and Sen. Thomas and I are very proud of it. Unfortunately, we can pass laws, but we cannot ensure implementation.
BEFORE SB95 was ever given an opportunity to work, a movement to undermine it and lower its standards occurred. This didn't occur because consumers of Georgia don't want protection. It is not because cosmetologists have changed their minds and no longer want these requirements.
It is simply because the office of secretary of state and the staff of the state licensing board, who are carrying out and implementing this mandate, do not want to do the job required to administer the law.
In a carefully orchestrated campaign and in a bureaucratic move, this administration has solicited all complainers and tried to deflect blame toward this consumer protection legislation. If they had spent as much time and effort notifying cosmetologists of the new requirements as they have blaming the law, you could fit all the complainants into a phone booth.
In a House Industry Committee meeting earlier this month, the complaints fell into three areas: 1) Cosmetologists are not notified in a timely manner about new requirements for continuing education; 2) there are too many unlicensed operators and too few inspectors to monitor them, and, 3) interested callers cannot get through to the licensing board's office to have questions answered.
ALTHOUGH MANY of us believed this meeting was designed to create an illusion of mass dissatisfaction in the industry with the new law, none of these complaints is caused by the law or could be resolved by the creation of a new law.
So instead of a collective howl for more laws, the cry should be for implementation.
SB95 was passed by the legislature more than 18 months ago, and yet, by the administration's own admission, the state only began notifying cosmetologists of the new job requirements for continuing education in April, knowing that the intent of SB95 is to protect cosmetologists and the public.
However, as of now both of these classes remain unprotected because the licensing board and the office of secretary of state have failed to implement SB95.
I can think of no prudent reason for waiting 12 months to begin implementing this law, nor would the reduction of hours required for continuing education of cosmetologists rectify this oversight.
There are currently only six inspectors to monitor 70,000 cosmetologists and salons. This is an impossible task that should be addressed in the budget process. We are collecting $35 every other year from each licensee and each salon, and fees for each course required and fines. This money should only be used to fund what is needed to administer this profession.
AN UNLICENSED operator is a safety issue and has nothing to do with SB95. Legislators have done their jobs. Now, let the administration do theirs.
Finally, the phone system is also a budgeting problem that should be fixed. I have suggested privatization by contract with a phone service as a way to get through this difficult period. Licensees that pay good money for licenses and taxes should be able to call their board office for answers and get some person on the phone in a timely manner.
Health experts, consumers, and some good operators around this state are all telling us these type of education and safety standards are needed. Ask your mother.
(Editor's note: The writer, an Appling Republican, is a member of the Georgia Senate.)