Florida Legislature Puts Special Interests Ahead of Economic Opportunity, Fails to Deregulate Interior Design

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · May 10, 2011

Arlington, Va.—Late Friday evening, May 6, 2011, a group of Florida Senate Republicans put political gamesmanship above economic opportunity and sound public policy by voting down a bill that would have deregulated a number of harmless occupations, including interior design.

Florida is one of only three states in the entire country that regulates the practice of interior design. The Florida Attorney General’s office has stipulated it has no evidence that interior design presents any genuine threat to the public, and that fact has been confirmed by more than a dozen government studies in other states.

“Interior design laws like Florida’s are not designed to protect the public, but to protect state-licensed interior designers from fair competition,” said Clark Neily, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, which is challenging Florida’s law in court. “Interior design laws drive up prices, limit choices, and disproportionately exclude minorities and older, mid-career switchers from the trade. It is disappointing that some legislators decided to put industry insiders ahead of economic opportunity by derailing a good-faith effort to eliminate this blatantly anti-competitive occupational licensing law.”

It first appeared that the deregulation bill, H.B. 5005, would be approved by the Senate, resulting in the elimination of several pointless occupational licensing schemes such as interior design. But the interior design cartel, led by the American Society of Interior Designers, waged a fierce lobbying campaign to derail the bill that appears to have succeeded not because of any genuine support for interior design licensing, but simply because H.B. 5005 became a political football in an internecine squabble among House and Senate Republicans over the way certain legislative decisions were made during the session.

According to Institute for Justice staff attorney Paul Sherman, “This really underscores the need for a properly engaged judiciary to protect us from legislators who seem more concerned with scoring cheap political points than respecting the constitutional right to earn a living free from arbitrary or unreasonable government interference.”

Also on Friday, the Institute for Justice received notice that the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would not reconsider its earlier decision upholding the portion of Florida’s interior design law requiring a license to work in commercial spaces. “While we are disappointed with that decision, it was not unexpected,” said Institute Senior Attorney Clark Neily. “We vowed to take this case to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary, and that is exactly what we plan to do. We will also hold the Board of Architecture and Interior Design to the various stipulations and concessions it made in the course of the lawsuit that led to a substantial narrowing of the law.” United States District Judge Robert Hinkle noted in his ruling upholding portions of the interior design scheme that the state had advocated a “limited construction” of the law “in order to obtain a favorable ruling” and emphasized that the state “will not be free in later cases to disavow the limited construction” of the law. The prosecuting attorney for Board of Architecture and Interior Design, David Minacci, said he believed that while the judge’s ruling might technically have upheld the commercial-practice portion of Florida’s interior design law, the ruling “cut the legs out from underneath” it. “We believe that is an apt description of the effect of Judge Hinkle’s ruling,” said Neily, “and we’ll watch the State Board closely.”