Acadiana Business

Jindal strikes down blooming nonsense

by Leslie Turk

It's been easier to sell a gun in Louisiana than a floral arrangement - until today.

It's been easier to sell a gun in Louisiana than a floral arrangement - until today.

Gov. Bobby Jindal on Monday signed into law HB 1407, proving Louisiana is indeed capable of undoing an illegal arrangement. But sometimes it takes us seven decades.

The Institute for Justice, which teamed up with four Louisiana florists in early March to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state's florist licensing law, says HB 1407 means Louisiana florists will no longer find themselves fenced out of the industry by an "arbitrary, subjective and antiquated licensing exam in which their own future competitors decide whether they are good enough' to sell floral arrangements." The law, by any measure, was an anti-competitive, anti-consumer scheme, Chauvin v. Strain accurately pointed out. We're talking flowers here people.

HB 1407, sponsored by Rep. Franklin Foil, abolishes the demonstration portion of the floral licensing exam, while leaving in place, for now, the IJ points out, a short written exam that presents no serious obstacle to would-be florists. The bill flew through both houses of the Louisiana Legislature. Before the new law, Louisiana required would-be florists to pass both a written test and a highly subjective demonstration examination, in which they were given four hours to create four floral arrangements that were then judged by a panel of state-licensed florists - in essence, their future competitors. The written test presents a relatively minor government hoop that people must jump through before they may sell floral arrangements in Louisiana, according to the IJ.

Louisiana is the only state in the union that requires a state license for florists, but undoing it hasn't been easy. The law was challenged in the Legislature unsuccessfully in 2004 and again in 2007; after the law was softened somewhat two years ago, the pass rate jumped from around 60 percent to 77 percent. When Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain was unable to change the statute to eliminate the design test in 2008, he implemented a regulatory system that put more of the grade weight, half, on the written exam. That's when the success rate moved to 77 percent.

"HB 1407 gives aspiring florists and entrepreneurs more freedom to pursue their chosen occupation free from blatantly anti-competitive government interference," says Tim Keller, the IJ's lead counsel in Chauvin v. Strain. "In light of this new law, and the fact that three of our clients have taken and passed the state's written examination, we will declare victory and move to voluntarily dismiss our case."

"Arranging and selling flowers is a completely harmless occupation," adds Keller. "Therefore, the Institute for Justice will continue to monitor the state's written exam to ensure that it remains an insubstantial barrier for would-be florists. If necessary, we are certainly prepared to file a new lawsuit in order to finish the job that HB 1407 started by eliminating the practical exam, which has always been the real root of the problem here in Louisiana."

"There is no need for the government to test or license would-be florists," Keller adds. "The only purpose served by the written exam is to raise funds for the state through licensing fees while setting up unnecessary - but in this case fairly trivial - barriers to entrepreneurship. The Legislature should take the next step and eliminate the written examination."

IJ took the case pro-bono. Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based law firm represents individuals in courtrooms across the country who successfully defend their free speech rights and ability to earn an honest living in the occupations of their choice. It is a public interest, non-profit law firm that advocates in both the court of law and in the court of public opinion.