By MELINDA DESLATTE, Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana is seen as having some of the most restrictive professional licensing requirements in the country, and talk of shrinking that list was high heading into the Legislature’s regular session.
Why is Louisiana the only state in the nation that requires retail florists to pass a licensing exam? Should braiding hair professionally need a license? Does the state really need exams and licensing provisions for interior designers?
But supporters of stripping some licensing laws from the books are finding they’ll have to chisel away slowly at the rules.
“You have a lot of people who are in the industries who say, ‘Well, I had to do all this. All the people coming after me should have to do this.’ I do understand that, but to me if something’s bad policy, we shouldn’t continue it just because we did it before,” said Rep. Julie Emerson, the Carencro Republican spearheading legislative efforts to repeal some requirements.
Emerson said the licensing constraints – such as multiple exams, extensive training requirements and hefty fees for some occupations – can be “barriers of entry into the workforce,” keeping people from using their skills to earn a living and build their own businesses.
“Is it enough of a threat to public safety and public health to warrant this type of regulation?” she asked.
The deregulation efforts have run into opposition from professional groups, licensing boards and people licensed in the occupational fields who are seeking to hang onto their monopolies. Critics also say the licensing standards and required training help protect the public’s welfare.
“Being licensed to me is not necessarily to obstruct business or to stop someone from growing their business. It’s to protect consumers,” said Republican Rep. Clay Schexnayder, of Gonzales, as he opposed ending florist licensing.
Work to lessen licensing rules crosses party lines, making for strange alliances. Libertarian organizations are championing the issue, along with the Louisiana chapter of the staunchly conservative Americans for Prosperity and Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.
“Louisiana ranks as the sixth-worst in the nation for convoluted occupational licensing requirements. We can fix that,” Edwards said.
He’s singled out the florist license: “I’m not sure why we do that.”
The Goldwater Institute, a libertarian think tank, said Louisiana licenses more low-income professions in the country than nearly every other state – and requires licensing for professions that rarely have such requirements elsewhere. Beyond the flower-arranging license, Louisiana is one of only three states that licenses interior designers.
Emerson has shelved proposals to remove licensing requirements for interior designers and landscape horticulturists, instead focusing on deregulation of florists and hair braiding. She’s also proposing an Occupational Licensing Review Act, backed by Edwards, that would set up an annual review process of Louisiana’s regulations governing individual professions.
Even the review proposal received pushback as it won passage in the House Commerce Committee. Representatives of the Louisiana Motor Vehicle Commission and the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology described it as an unnecessary burden.
“This is just piling on,” said Steve Young, executive director of the cosmetology board.
That bill awaits debate on the House floor, along with Emerson’s proposals to exempt braiding services from regulation by the state cosmetology board and do away with the license . That hair-braiding deregulation effort passed the House last year but didn’t win Senate passage.
Fourteen states require hair braiders to have a cosmetology license, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Emerson’s bid to end florist licensing also emerged from committee Thursday and will be scheduled for full House debate.
Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain said that license began in 1950, aimed at ensuring that no plant diseases or pests were transmitted through cut flowers. Under Emerson’s bill, florists still would be subject to inspection and regulation from the agriculture department, and permits still would be required.
Beyond those safety reviews, Emerson said she believes the free market can determine if a florist is competent or not.
“It’s a service-based industry,” she said. “You have to let the market and competition take care of it.