Louisiana Florists Seek Independence From State Licensing Scheme

John Kramer
John Kramer · July 1, 2005

Washington, D.C—Three would-be florists in Louisiana are celebrating the July 4th holiday by seeking independence from the State-enforced florist cartel that bars them from pursuing their share of the American Dream.

Aspiring entrepreneurs Shamille Peters, Barbara Peacock and Kayode Howell, represented by the Institute for Justice, today asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to declare Louisiana’s anti-competitive, anti-consumer florist licensing scheme a violation of their right to economic liberty—the right to earn an honest living free from arbitrary government interference—under the U.S. Constitution.

Louisiana (alone among the 50 states) has barred Peters, Peacock, Howell and others from pursuing careers as florists unless they can pass a highly subjective government-mandated exam that is graded by existing florists—their future competition. Not surprisingly, more than half—64 percent—of the individuals who take the exam fail.

In December 2003, the Institute for Justice filed a federal lawsuit in Louisiana challenging the law. In March, U.S. District Court Judge Frank Polozola upheld Louisiana’s florist licensing scheme as a “reasonable” regulation to ensure public health and safety and to protect consumers from bad floral arrangements.

But unlicensed florists in 49 other states create arrangements for consumers every day with no “public heath and safety” issues or consumer scares from poor design. Safety issues are not even tested on Louisiana’s licensing exam, and state officials who oversee the licensing process cannot point to any health or safety problems. Moreover, unlicensed floral designers in Louisiana are permitted to arrange and sell flowers with no supervision from a licensed florist, as long as they work in the same shop. And even accomplished florists from other states routinely fail the test.

“There is only one real reason Louisiana bureaucrats insist on deciding who can and who cannot sell flowers—the licensed florist lobby wants to keep potential competitors out of the market,” said IJ Senior Attorney Clark Neily. “It’s a classic example of entrenched interests capturing the power of government to stifle competition.”

The florist lobby, the Louisiana State Florists Association, is stronger than one might expect. Soon after IJ filed its lawsuit, the Louisiana House of Representatives voted 92 to 3 to end the licensing scheme. But after the Florists Association urged Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom to lobby against the bill, it was killed in the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“No one thinks this law is anything but absurd—except for Louisiana bureaucrats and the florist cartel,” added Neily. “We’re hopeful that the 5th Circuit will tear this un-American licensing racket out by its roots.”

Since its founding in 1991, IJ has scored significant legal victories on behalf of entrepreneurs and, in the process, opened up long-closed markets in occupations ranging from online real estate advertising to taxicab service, casket retailing to African hairbraiding.