Jerry Kopel

KOPEL: NEW REQUESTS FOR REGULATION

Hair-bound, lost-and-found, lighting round

One consumer is losing her hair, another’s son is just plain lost, and a third is losing money because solar-electric systems are being installed incompetently. At least, those are the complaints cited by applicants who want the 2009 Legislature to increase or change the regulation of professional hair braiders, human trackers and solar-electric system installers.

? ? ?

“Ouch! That hurts!”

If your hair is being braided too tightly, you may be suffering from “traction alopecia,” defined by the Department of Regulatory Agencies as “a hair loss condition caused by damage to the dermal papilla and hair follicle by constant pulling or tension over a long period.”

Mere hair braiding isn’t going to cause a problem, but doing it wrong a number of times could. As used in this column, “hair braiding” includes “natural hair styling.”

“Hair braiding,” states DORA, is used overwhelmingly by persons of African-American descent and “can be traced back over 4,000 years to the Caribbean and ... Africa.”

(Overwhelmingly, perhaps, but not exclusively. I have a video that shows singer Tony Bennett at a time when his head was bald except for “scalp braids” laid flat against the sides of his scalp.)

Hair braiders presently are licensed under the cosmetology statutes. The problem is that the training that leads to a cosmetology license pays scant attention to the skills they need.

As DORA states, “Hair braiders ... must currently complete lengthy, expensive training programs that focus on chemical services and hair cutting (and) offer little or no training in African-style hair braiding.”

The result is that “a licensed hairstylist can legitimately provide services ... without having a single hour of training,” in braiding hair, while a skilled, unlicensed hair braider who has been “providing services for years is in violation of the law.” The applicant wants the Legislature to institute a separate licensing program.

After thoroughly discussing sanitation and infection concerns, DORA suggests Colorado join Kansas, Minnesota and Mississippi in exempting hair braiders from the cosmetology statute if they take a health and sanitation seminar.

I would suggest a required course in hair-braiding skills instead. I also would suggest a database under the cosmetology statute to identify hair braiders, similar to the database identifying unlicensed psychotherapists. The database would provide consumers with required information on sanitation and infection-control practices.

? ? ?

Chances are slim to none that there will be a bill in 2009 to certify “human trackers.”

The applicant is a father unhappy with the way a Larimer County sheriff’s office handled a search for his son.

What do human trackers do? According to applicant, he or she “recognizes and locates footprints, obtains pertinent incident information, recognizes and resolves footprint contradiction or contamination.”

In Colorado, the Joel Hardin Professional Tracking Services offers courses in this skill. Introductory certification (“novice: finding signs”) is followed by more extensive education leading up to “master tracker” status.

DORA found all sheriffs are aware of their ability to call in human trackers under CRS 24-32-2107 (10) (a), usually through the Colorado Search and Rescue Board (CSRB), a nonprofit corporation that coordinates search and rescue services.

The CSRB, in turn, contacts the Rocky Mountain Trackers Association, of which 30 of 42 members are located in Colorado. The Department of Local Affairs can tap a $180,000 search and rescue fund (CRS 33-1-112.5) to pay for a tracker’s efforts.

DORA’s research revealed that no state presently regulates human trackers and determined that the present Colorado system of delegation is effective without further regulation.

? ? ?

There are 300 installers of solar systems on homes and businesses. These systems, states DORA “are typically mounted on roofs ... with a reasonable amount of nonshaded, unobstructed roof space during the day’s key sun hours.” The systems not only provide electricity, they also can send unused, excess power back to a utility for rebates to the consumer.

The applicant urging licensing is the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), which has certified 29 Colorado installers. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (BCEP) credentials another 31 Colorado installers.

Both groups protect consumers by requiring installers to take written tests and achieve a benchmark for experience. Presently, eight states license solar system installers.

A key question for DORA: Does potential financial or physical harm to consumers justify state regulation? DORA reviewed complaints over the past five years and found fewer than half a dozen incidents in which installations created possible harm.

DORA opposed any regulations, quoting SEIA’s admission that “Xcel Energy has connected 1,000 solar systems to its power grid” over a recent 18-month period. The DORA review did not note that any of those installations went wrong.

City and county governments require permits and inspections for most solar system installations. Although it opposes any regulatory bill at present, DORA recognized that “as demand increases ... market conditions are prime environments for fly-by-night businesses.”

In other words, if conditions change, so might DORA’s verdict.

Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.