Friday, Oct. 30, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
All Vernon Williamson wanted to do was what he’s done, off and on, for the past 46 years. He wanted to be a barber.
The semiretired septuagenarian has shaved faces and cut hair in Missouri and California. He says he wants a little work on the side now that he’s in Nevada. He figured it would just be a simple matter of transferring his California license.
He was wrong.
Nevada doesn’t allow out-of-state barbers to transfer their licenses here, a procedure known as reciprocity, because it’s usually done along the lines of, “If you trust our barbers, we’ll trust your barbers.”
No trusting here. In Nevada, barbers must provide their records and then apply and take tests for a new license.
Because the California barber board can be difficult to contact, Williamson drove from Las Vegas to Sacramento to pick up copies of his records and to get a letter saying he was a barber in good standing. Then, Williamson said, the Nevada board wanted letters from co-workers.
“I had a letter saying they had known me to be a barber for 20 years and the board said, no, they only wanted someone who knew me for the last five years,” Williamson said.
Frustrated, Williamson has taken on barber reciprocity as his mission. He’s written to State Treasurer Kate Marshall, state Senator Steven Horsford (D-Las Vegas), Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, Gov. Jim Gibbons, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama.
(Incidentally, Williamson said the only two people who didn’t write back to him were Gibbons and Reid. “I could see if they got lots of letters every day,” Williamson said, “but this is an important matter.”)
So far, Williamson has been unable to persuade anyone to take up his cause.
How common is it for states to grant reciprocal licenses for out-of-state barbers, the way new Nevadans can easily trade in their old driver’s licenses for new ones? About half do, according to Charles Kirkpatrick, executive officer of the National Association of Barber Boards of America. Kirkpatrick is in favor of it, but he said that for the system to work, it has to be easy to contact other state’s barber boards to check applicants. One problem Nevada might have is that California’s barber board is notoriously bad at answering its phone.
Still, Kirkpatrick said, “I’ve been a barber for a lot of years and these days we can move around a lot more than we used to.”
We called up the Las Vegas office of the Nevada State Barber’s Health and Sanitation Board and asked the board’s secretary and treasurer, Eloy Maestas, why Nevada doesn’t offer reciprocity for out-of-state barbers.
“Because we don’t, that’s just why,” Maestas said.
Under coaxing, Maestas elaborated: The board sees a lot of barbers from other states who aren’t adept enough with their straight razors or conscientious enough about cleaning up from the inevitable nicks and cuts or cleaning their razors between customers. The chief concern are blood-borne illnesses such as hepatitis, HIV and drug-resistant strains of staph.
“There’s really no difference between a straight razor and a hypodermic needle,” Maestas said.
Another roadblock to reciprocity might be that communication among state licensing boards isn’t, well, reciprocal. Or easy.
Consider our experience with Maestas: He said he would call us back later in the day with further details on barber licensing. He didn’t. Nor could we get the Las Vegas office of the barber board to answer its phone or return our repeated calls.
For two weeks.