Most people don't think to ask to see their florist's flower-arranging license before buying floral arrangements. And rightfully so. Roses and lilies pose no threat to consumers or arrangers, and any florist who doesn't do a good job won't long remain in business. So why do florists in Louisiana need to pass a government-mandated licensing exam or face having their business shut down?
Until this week, Louisiana was the only state in the nation that required would-be florists to pass both a written test and a four-hour, highly subjective demonstration exam judged by state-licensed florists--otherwise known as their own future competition. It is easy to see the potential abuse of this power, especially if a possible competitor's fresh ideas and creativity could take away business from a judge. This anti-competitive exam was why four Louisiana florists teamed up with the Institute for Justice to file a civil rights lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state's anti-entrepreneurial florist licensing scheme.
Monique Chauvin, Leslie Massony, Michelle Domingue and Debby Wood were all unlicensed florists in Louisiana. Monique, Leslie and Michelle work together at Mitch's Flowers in New Orleans, which Monique bought from the original owner in 1999. Even though Monique's floral arrangements are regularly featured in magazines, she had been unable to pass the florist licensing exam. If she did not pass the exam, the state government had the power to shut down her business, threatening to put Monique, Leslie and Michelle out of work. All because they lacked a piece of paper or a licensed florist on staff.
Debby Wood started her own floral arranging business after making six arrangements for her mother-in-law's birthday party. At the urging of her family, Debby started Debra Hirsch Wood Designs. After completing all the necessary paperwork and obtaining a tax ID number, she discovered it was illegal to arrange and sell flowers in Louisiana without a license. Debby spent $2,000 on a two-week, 80-hour course, an additional $150 on a refresher course the Saturday before the exam, and hundreds of hours studying. She was shocked when she found out she had failed the test.
The stories of Monique, Leslie, Michelle and Debby quickly captured the attention of state and national media. The public disbelief over such an outrageous law forced the Louisiana legislature to take action during its 2010 session.
Finally bowing to common sense, a new law frees would-be florists from taking the most ridiculous portion of the licensing exam before they can pursue an honest living in this craft. This week Governor Jindal signed the bill into law, giving IJ's clients and countless others in the state the freedom to apply their talents as florists and try to grow their small business.
While this is a good first step, the entire exam should be done away with. This blooming nonsense should be ended once and for by all trimming the government's power to decide who may arrange flowers and who may not.
Shira Rawlinson is with the Institute for Justice, which represented Louisiana florists in their challenge to the state's law.