By Clark Neily
Pass Rate of Louisiana retail florist exam applicants*
*Data taken from past 3 years (2000-2002); complete results from 2003 were not yet available.
What does it take to be a florist? A love of flowers, an eye for beauty, a spark of creativity. But in Louisiana, you’ll also need the government’s permission.
Alone among all the states, Louisiana says bureaucrats—not customers—should decide who is qualified to arrange and sell flowers and who isn’t.
Worse yet, to get that government permission, would-be florists must pass a ridiculously subjective licensing exam that is graded by the very state-licensed florists with whom they hope to compete. Small wonder the pass rate on the exam is well below 50 percent, and small wonder that even talented, highly experienced florists who come to Louisiana from other states are often unable to pass the exam, even after multiple attempts.
Floristry is a big business in America. According to the Society of American Florists, the floral industry racked up an estimated $19 billion in sales in 2002. The Internet accounted for nearly $1 billion of those sales, with about 1.5 percent of all online spending going to flowers. There are approximately 26,200 retail florist shops in America and another 23,000 supermarkets selling flowers, with more than 50,000 people employed as retail florists around the nation.
IJ Senior Attorney Clark Neily addresses the media during the launch of the Institute’s challenge to Louisiana’s government-imposed florist cartel. IJ President Chip Mellor, along with clients and aspiring florists Barbara Peacock, Shamille Peters, and Sandy Meadows, look on.
Floral arranging is a classic entry-level occupation that requires no formal training, no academic preparation and no substantial investment of capital. Thus, it is a vocation that is open even to people of modest means or limited education, and it offers the potential for a productive, rewarding livelihood to many people whose only alternatives might otherwise be limited to menial labor.
As a result of the State’s nakedly protectionist licensing regime, Louisiana turns away more than 100 people every year who want to earn a living as florists, including IJ clients Sandy Meadows, Shamille Peters and Barbara Peacock.
IJ Client Sandy Meadows takes her case against Louisiana’s florist cartel to the court of public opinion.
Sandy Meadows began arranging flowers nine years ago in Monroe, La. Shortly after the death of her husband in 2000, Sandy moved to Baton Rouge, where she worked in the floral department of several Albertson’s grocery stores. Sandy’s talent and professionalism are such that she was promoted from “floral clerk” to “floral supervisor,” making her responsible for every facet of the floral department’s operation, from making arrangements and dealing with customers, to ordering new stock, to budgeting, to overseeing the day-to-day operation of the department.
Because Sandy has been unable to pass the government licensing exam in three separate attempts, however, she cannot work as an actual florist. As a result, despite her nine years of experience, her legions of happy and satisfied customers, and the total confidence of her managers, Sandy must work under the supervision of a State-licensed florist—usually someone with far less experience and ability than she has. Of course, that is precisely the kind of absurd result that flows from absurd licensing schemes of this kind.
IJ Client Shamille Peters tells the public that it is easier to get a hunting license in Louisiana than to get a license to be a florist.
Shamille Peters, from New Orleans, likewise learned how to arrange flowers on the job. She has also taken two floral design courses at a local community college and she created the floral arrangements not only for her own wedding but for the weddings of several friends and a cousin as well. Shamille is, by any reasonable standard, an extremely talented, capable and gifted florist. But that means nothing to the bureaucrats at the Louisiana Horticulture Commission, who have repeatedly denied her a florist license because she has flunked the State’s licensing exam five times. Blocked by the government-protected cartel, Shamille has had to pass up opportunities to handle the floral arrangements for banquets and other events in New Orleans and work instead in the admitting department of a downtown hospital.
Barbara Peacock grew up in the small town of Hall Summit, south of Shreveport. As a girl, she and her mother would pick the flowers they grew behind their house and use them to decorate their church for services, weddings and other events. Barbara dreams of opening a small wedding chapel in Shreveport, where she could host showers and smaller weddings. She even found the perfect spot for her future business and made arrangements to rent the space. Because flowers are integral to that business, however, and because she could not afford to keep a full-time florist on her payroll, Barbara—who has also been unable to pass the florist exam and is therefore not a licensed florist—has been forced to give up that dream.
The Louisiana licensing exam is a travesty. Many of the criteria on which applicants are evaluated are utterly subjective (these include whether the arrangement has the “proper focal point,” whether the flowers are “spaced effectively” and whether the flowers and greenery have been “picked properly”). The judges’ score sheets make clear that the grading of those criteria are so utterly haphazard as to be fundamentally arbitrary.
As Mary Dark, a highly experienced state-licensed florist from Shreveport who actually teaches a test-preparation class called “Cram for the Exam” explains, “The test proves nothing if you pass, other than you survived the State’s hazing process.” In fact, she says, Louisiana “desperately needs new floral designers for the marketplace. I get calls constantly from florists needing trained designers. Unfortunately, people are humiliated when they don’t pass the test and many can’t find the money to keep taking the test over and over again. People simply give up even though they are desperately needed in today’s floral industry.”
Together with Sandy, Shamille and Barbara, we look forward to tearing this ridiculous occupational licensing requirement out by its roots.
Clark Neily is an IJ senior attorney.