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House panel seeks to halt controversial Army hair regulations

May. 7, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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Black women aren’t the only group who have a problem with the Army’s new hairstyle standards — House lawmakers don’t like them either.

As part of its annual defense authorization bill mark up on Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee added language to prohibit the department from enforcing the new hair rules.

Instead, lawmakers want a full review of the plans, including “the opinions of those who may have religious accommodation requirements and minorities serving in the Armed Forces.”

Last month, thousands of soldiers and civilians launched an unsuccessful White House petition compelling the president to order a review of the new appearance and grooming regulations, charging they were “racially biased” against black women.

The rules forbid twists or multiple braids bigger than a quarter of an inch in diameter, dreadlocks of any style, and uneven or oversized cornrows.

Army officials defended the regulations, arguing they are needed to ensure uniformity and functionality with military headgear. They also said minorities were involved in crafting the new rules, to ensure the end result wasn’t racially biased.

Former Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs, who launched the White House petition that sparked an online controversy and drew national attention to the issue, said she is excited by the development.

“It’s really inspiring,” she said. “I just hope it becomes more the norm as far as in the future when there’s a new regulation ... it’s [set] by a more diverse committee so it’s not retroactive, and we can be more proactive.”

Jacobs said she hopes that in the future “the regulations would be fair for females of all different races.”

“The Army has a chance to take advantage of this educational moment and come out on top,” she said. “I’m excited to see where this goes.”

The Senate would have to adopt the House’s regulation ban before it could become law. Leaders from the Senate Armed Services Committee are expected to offer their draft of the annual authorization bill later this month.

The House language also prohibits other services from adopting similar standards, and requires the Defense Department to report back to Congress on the results of their review.

Staff writer Michelle Tan contributed to this report.

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