Nail tech industry asks legislative committee to update testing, regulations

by Jordan Hensley, Legislative Research Commission

FRANKFORT — A bipartisan bill in the works for the 2024 legislative session would update nail tech certification testing and nail salon regulations.

Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, is one of the primary sponsors of the potential legislation. He and Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, have been working together on the bill.

“I really hope that we can come to some consensus about this bill,” Thomas told the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations. He invited several representatives from the nail tech industry to testify on the issue during the committee’s meeting Tuesday.

Kentucky nail technician Molida Soth said most nail techs in the U.S. are in the Asian American Pacific Islander community, and many of them are not native English speakers. Currently, the nail tech certification exam is only offered in English.

Soth said the exam needs to be offered in multiple languages, including Vietnamese, Cambodian and Chinese. Failing the exam more than three times requires the applicant to wait six months and take an 80-hour brush up course before retaking the exam. If they fail two more times, the applicant is banned from retaking the exam for three years, she added.

“Examination disfavors those who do not speak English as their first language,” Soth said. “So this is not because of their lack of skill, but simply due to the fact they do not read English … This causes a great financial burden.”

When otherwise skilled nail techs cannot get board certified, it makes it difficult for them to find a job and it hurts the high-in-demand nail tech industry that needs workers, Soth said.

Additionally, Soth said nail salons have faced strict regulations by the Kentucky Board of Cosmetology that have led to shut downs and excessive fines with little chance to correct any issues beforehand.

Ultimately, the industry would like to see a nail tech representative added to the state cosmetology board and a written warning before punitive action is taken against a salon. Soth said they are also requesting the board certification exam be offered in multiple languages with unlimited opportunities to retake the exam.

“Asian immigrants are known for their strong work ethic,” Soth said. “We work long hours. We dedicate ourselves to our craft. We pay taxes on our earnings, and we firmly believe in the American dream.”

Schickel, who co-chairs the committee, said he’s “very excited” about Thomas’s bill. Schickel said he’s spent some time this summer visiting nail salons in his district, and he’s been impressed.

“It’s been my observation that you are hardworking people, and that the citizens, at least in my community, utilize your services,” he added.

Rep. Killian Timoney, R-Nicholasville, who is a first-generation American, said he thinks the issues facing the nail tech industry are getting in the way of people working.

“I think this is one of those cases where we have overregulated something that we need to take a look at finding a way where we can get people to work that want to work and encourage them and make sure red tape is not in the way,” he said.

Sen. Michael J. Nemes, R-Shepherdsville, said an update to the Kentucky Board of Cosmetology is needed.

“I thank you all for adapting to what you’ve had to adapt to and thank you for being a great asset to Kentucky,” Nemes said. “I look forward to backing this bill.”

During the interim, the Kentucky General Assembly cannot take any action on legislation. The 2024 legislative session begins Jan. 2.

The next Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations is currently scheduled for Sept. 28 at 11 a.m.

Photo: Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, discussing a potential bill on nail tech certification and regulations. (LRC PIO)