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Commentary By Charles Hughes

Louisiana Avoids Danger of Unlicensed Florists

Economics, Economics Employment, Regulatory Policy

With Mother’s Day fewer than two weeks away, people are wondering what to get their mothers as a token of appreciation. Flowers are a classic gift. Beautiful bouquets are available everywhere, but customers in Louisiana are unique in that their florists must obtain licenses to practice their profession. After a bill that would have repealed the licensing requirement was defeated in the State Senate Agriculture Committee by a 6 to 1 vote this week, licensing will remain the case for the immediate future.

Louisiana should remove this licensing requirement for florists. It would create more opportunities for would-be florists, and lower prices for people looking for flower arrangements, regardless of the occasion.

While unfortunate, it perhaps should not be surprising that the repeal bill did not pass, as the state has a penchant for occupational licensing. Louisiana tied with Washington for the most occupations licensed in a recent report from the Institute for Justice, requiring licenses for 77 out of 102 occupations included. A study from the Archbridge Institute found that from 1993 to 2012 Louisiana had the largest increase in the number of low-income occupations that were newly licensed.

These findings were one factor spurring renewed interest in reviewing and potentially reforming the licensing framework in the state, with the Baton Rouge Advocate reporting that the bill had enjoyed support from a broad coalition including Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards, Republican State Representative Julie Emerson, and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.

Even with this support, the bill garnered only one vote in committee. Incumbent florists objected strenuously to the bill, and one florist said that “Having a license is not a barrier… To say you are a licensed florist sets you apart in the industry."

It is difficult to see how requiring every florist in the state to obtain a license can set them apart, since everyone has to have a license. To obtain the required florist license, people have to pay $189 in fees and take an exam.  These fees serve as a barrier for some seeking to earn supplemental income, as might the time required to prepare and take the exam.

These barriers can be seen when looking at another occupation at the center of licensing reform efforts in the state: hair braiding. In 2012 Mississippi, which only requires hair braiders to register with the state, had 1,245 working hair braiders.

Meanwhile Louisiana, which required 500 training hours for a license, had only 32. The burdens associated with the license for florists are not as arduous, but these requirements do serve as barriers for people seeking to enter the occupation.

In most professions, incumbents and proponents of licensing attempt to make the case that safety is the motivating factor for the license, but those arguments would strain credulity when it comes to designing bouquets. Instead, warnings about licensing reform here are that it would “denigrate the profession.”

Beyond florists, the scope of occupational licensing in the United States has grown significantly over time, from about 5 percent of occupations in the 1950s to about 25 percent today. Recently, some states and federal entities have showed renewed interest in reviewing and potentially reforming the status quo. For example, the state legislature in Nebraska just passed a bill requiring review of existing licenses to determine whether occupations require government intervention, and if so, that the license is the least restrictive form of regulation that is feasible.

While these are positive developments, Louisiana fell short in what should have been one of the more incremental and uncontroversial areas for improvement of any occupation in any state, and it will continue to be the only state in the nation that licenses florists.

The setback in Louisiana should lead more people to ask whether they think it makes sense to require florists to obtain a license from the government. As more research regarding the adverse consequences of licensing is disseminated, and other states continue to make progress, perhaps Louisiana’s florist license requirement will be repealed.

Charles Hughes is a policy analyst at the Manhattan Institute. Follow him on Twitter @CharlesHHughes.

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