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    These Five Small Business Owners Fought City Hall—And Won

    (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Earn an Honest Living)

    It's hard to be an entrepreneur in this economy—and many government regulations make it even harder. But there is hope. The Institute for Justice has published the Entrepreneur's Survival Guide, a free report filled with tips and tactics on how to fight back against laws that make it needlessly difficult to earn a living. IJ has helped small business owners all across the country, including:

    1. Hair Braiders Untangle Red Tape in Mississippi

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    Honest Enterprise / Via

    All Melony Armstrong wanted to do was teach others how to braid hair. But that would have turned her into a criminal.

    Melony is the proud owner of Naturally Speaking, a natural hair-braiding salon in Tupelo, Miss. In order to expand her business, she wanted to teach new hires the intricacies behind the art of African hair braiding.

    Yet the State Board of Cosmetology thwarted her plans. Melony could only legally teach braiding if she became a licensed cosmetology instructor. That was no easy feat. Mississippi required a whopping 3,200 hours of training and thousands of dollars in tuition. To put that in perspective, in less time, Melony could also train to become an emergency medical technician, an ambulance driver, hunting instructor and a firefighter—combined.

    So to vindicate her right to economic liberty, in 2004, she and the Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit in federal court and sued Mississippi. Melony also routinely traveled to the state capital in Jackson (a seven-hour round trip from Tupelo) to persuade legislators to embrace reform. Spurred by her efforts, state lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill to liberalize braiding. Now the state has some of the best braiding laws in the nation, requiring entrepreneurs to pay just $25 in registration fees and to complete a self-test on hygiene. Since the law was reformed, about 1,000 braiders have registered in Mississippi.

    Melony has gone on to teach over 125 people the art behind this venerated tradition, while her braiding business has employed 25 women. Ever determined to help other small business owners, Melony even testified before Congress earlier this year, urging legislators to “heed our calls to remove those laws that do nothing but prevent honest competition in trades from coast to coast.”

    2. Food Truck Owners Cook Up Victory in New Orleans

    From her food truck, La Cocinita, Rachel Billow prepared fresh, Latin American cuisine like arepas, ceviche and gazpacho on the streets of New Orleans. But outdated regulations from the 1950s held her back. The city only allowed 100 licenses for mobile food vendors. It took Rachel “several months of frustrating visits to City Hall” before she finally could get a permit.

    Unfortunately, that didn’t end the regulatory hassles. Like too many other cities, New Orleans banned food trucks from operating within 600 feet of a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Plus, food trucks could only vend for up to 45 minutes.

    Rachel and mobile cuisine vendors created the New Orleans Food Truck Coalition and worked with IJ to overhaul the Crescent City’s food truck laws. After months of debate, a compromise bill passed the city council. But Mayor Mitch Landrieu vetoed it over concerns that the ordinance “may be unconstitutional” and “would not withstand a legal challenge.”

    A new bill was drafted that removed the proximity ban, let food trucks vend for up to four hours in one spot, and more than doubled the number of permits for street vendors. With the mayor’s blessing, it passed unanimously in 2013.

    Laissez les bon temps rouler!

    3. Bagel Storeowner Punches a Hole in City’s Crazy Sign Code

    Losing your job can be brutal. But for Dennis Ballen, it turned out to be “one of the best things that can happen.” After getting a pink slip, the next day Dennis created his own business hawking bagels to hungry office workers. Within a year, Blazing Bagels, the “best bagel east of New York,” had grown to include seven employees and a brick-and-mortar outlet in Redmond, Wash. Since his store was tucked away, Dennis had an employee stand on the sidewalk and wear a sign that just said “Fresh Bagels - Now Open.”

    But that simple ad was actually against the law in Redmond. In 2003, the city smacked Blazing Bagels with a cease-and-desist order. Under Redmond’s code, portable commercial signs were banned. Yet the law had a major loophole: It didn’t apply to signs by real estate brokers.

    To vindicate his right to free speech, Dennis joined forces with the Institute for Justice and sued Redmond for $1 in nominal damages. In 2006, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the ordinance as unconstitutional, ruling that “the City has protected outdoor signage displayed by the powerful real estate industry from an Ordinance that unfairly restricts the First Amendment rights of, among others, a lone bagel shop owner.” The decision set an important precedent, affecting not just Redmond, Wash., but wide swaths of the western United States.

    Plus, Dennis won a dollar.

    Since that win for free speech, Blazing Bagels has expanded to four locations, and now bakes three million bagels a year.

    4. Taxi Drivers Ride for Freedom in Milwaukee

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    Ghaleb Ibrahim left his native Jordan back in the 1970s to pursue his American dream. He wanted to run his own business driving his own taxicab. But in Milwaukee, protectionist restrictions made that dream impossible for all but the very wealthy.

    Since 1991, the city had implemented a cap on cabs, so over time, the number of legal taxis in the city dwindled to just 321, or one cab for every 1,850 people—one of the worst ratios in the nation. The price for a cab “medallion,” or permit, skyrocketed from just $85 to $150,000. In fact, it cost more to start a taxi company than to buy a house. So cab drivers would usually have to drive someone else’s car to make a living.

    Fed up, Ghaleb, two other cab drivers and the Institute for Justice sued the city. Amidst their lawsuit, they also rallied supporters. To protest the city’s severe restrictions, 40 taxi drivers held a peaceful “freedom ride,” emblazoned with banners reading “Taxi Freedom: Let Me Own My Own Cab!”

    In 2013, a judge ruled there was “no rational basis” behind the cap. In response to the lawsuit, the Common Council first raised the cap by 100 cabs and then repealed it entirely this past July.

    5. Texas Interior Designers Show the First Amendment Isn’t Out of Style

    Vickee Byrum runs Yellow Door Design, offering stylish interior design throughout Austin, Texas. But for years, she couldn’t actually advertise herself as an “interior designer.” Under what’s known as a “titling” law, Texas banned interior designers from referring to themselves as such without special permission from the state.

    If she wanted to legally use the words “interior design” in her ads, website or other parts of her business, Vickee would have to get a state certification in interior design. That required six years of education and work experience. Running afoul could mean administrative penalties of up to $5,000.

    The Constitution clearly protects entrepreneurs talking truthfully about their own businesses. So Vickee, the Institute for Justice and three other interior designers took Texas to federal court. Soon after a federal appeals court stopped Texas from enforcing the titling law, state lawmakers scrapped the law in 2009.

    Government got you down? Never fear. Fight back with a FREE copy of the Entrepreneur's Survival Guide.

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