DES MOINES, Iowa — William Burt admits that he made a lot of bad choices when he was young. He grew up in a small town in Mississippi, moved to Iowa when he was 12, got into trouble too many times starting when he was 14 and got locked up at least 20 times. He ended up in prison four times. When he violated his parole, he ended up in prison again. But while he was in prison, he learned that he was a good barber. State rules now won’t let him pursue his dream.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds honored him and his commitment to turning his life around during her annual Condition of the State Address. “William, please rise so that we can recognize your efforts to be an active and productive citizen of this great state,” the governor said as she spoke to lawmakers.
Burt’s moment to stand in the House gallery, surrounded by applause was surreal to him, much like the phone call from the governor’s office asking him to be there for the speech. “Mind blowing,” Burt called the experience.
“I got a call a couple days ago asking if I could be available for it,” Burt said, “If it comes from the governor, you have to make a way. I haven’t really slept since the phone call.”
Burt told Channel 13 that his prison experience as a barber ignited a commitment inside him to make that a career. His real dream was to take his craft to customers. So he bought a van and started to customize it for a mobile barbershop. Then, he found out that the state doesn’t allow it.
Reynolds plans to change that. She called for the creation of a new commission that would review every professional license requirement and the boards that oversee them every four years. Iowans can buy a taco from a mobile food truck. They can get their dog shampooed in a mobile grooming truck, but they can’t get their hair cut in a mobile barbershop truck. The governor supports Burt’s dream, part of her speech’s overall call for increased opportunities for Iowans.
“Licensing reform is a topic that has bipartisan support, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy,” the governor said. “There will always be entrenched interests who benefit from overly burdensome regulations. But we can’t let those interests stand in the way of opportunity,” she continued, “These reforms are long overdue, and this is the year we will begin to fix a broken system.
The governor already restored Burt’s voting rights after he completed his sentence. But she, for the second year in a row, asked lawmakers to give Iowans authority to vote on a constitutional amendment to automatically restore voting rights to felons after they finish their sentence. “You can’t imagine the gratitude and dignity that Iowans like William feel when they’re told they can once again exercise what Ronald Reagan called ‘the crown jewel of American liberties,'” the governor said.