Flower Arranging Requires Government Approval

photo credit: Institute for Justice

The dream of becoming professional florists is on hold for three accomplished floral arrangers in Louisiana because the state mandates they pass a $150 two-part flower exam partly judged by arbitrary and selective criteria.

A Rose, a Tulip, and a Carnation: May I See Your License?

Sandy Meadows, Shamille Peters and Barbara Peacock all consider themselves blessed with a knack for designing floral arrangements. Their keen sense of blending color schemes, foliage types and other design aspects was developed through years of experience in the floral industry. Meadows spent a combined nine years as both a floral clerk and supervisor. Shamille boasts a similar resume while Barbara has worked with flowers and designed floral arrangements for her church, friends and relatives since she was a child. But their goal of becoming florists turned out to be a much more difficult goal to accomplish than the women expected. Each woman’s individual quest to become a professional florist was severely inhibited by Louisiana’s mandatory florist-licensing exam.

As preposterous as a state-mandated flower exam might sound, the success rate of perspective applicants is even harder to believe. Over the past three years, passage rates for the exam peaked in 2003 at a mere 46 percent. The year before, the success rate was only 43 percent. Legal experts argue the reason for the low rate of success among applicants is not a viable one. The Louisiana Horticulture Commission (LHC) assumed the responsibility for administering the Retail Florist Exam in 1939, authorizing only those people who successfully pass a two-part exam. This $150 exam consists of a written component and a practical, hands-on design test in which applicants create four different floral arrangements. The latter half of the exam is especially prone to subjectivity. Instead of using impartial judges to grade the Commission’s exams, the LHC employs state-licensed florists with whom prospective florists will compete in the marketplace if they pass the test. Thus, legal experts note, a situation is created where the judges can effectively control development and competition within their own industry.

LHC judges are asked to determine whether an applicant’s four floral arrangements meet indeterminable and subjective criteria such as a proper focal point, whether the arrangement was constructed in a size proportional to its container, if and how the flowers were effectively spread and whether or not the flowers and greens were properly picked. Many applicants have complained to the LHC that they believe the judges’ discretion and subjectivity obstruct the opportunity for applicants to obtain florist licenses.

One example that aptly demonstrates the arbitrary and subjective nature of judging occurred when one aspect of an applicant’s wedding arrangement received three perfect scores on the appropriate size of wire on her greenery (five out of five) and two failing scores (zero out of five) from the five-judge panel. These wide-ranging and inconsistent scores exhibit how the guidelines for grading and potential bias on the part of the judges toward future competition can contribute to the exam’s exceptionally low rate of success.

Meadows, Peters and Peacock are only three of many victims of this licensing program. Combined, the three women have already flunked the exam ten times despite their many years of experience. After their initial failures, Peters and Peacock enrolled in floral design courses at local community colleges in hopes of bolstering their chances to pass the exam. These efforts have so far proved only to be both fruitless and costly.

All three women have dedicated innumerable hours in their quests to become licensed florists in Louisiana. While all three are currently employed in other fields, the extremely subjective nature of the state’s licensing exam presents them from practicing their desired vocation. In December 2003, Meadows, Peters and Peacock filed a lawsuit against the LHC in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana in Baton Rouge, claiming that the requirements to become a licensed florist are anti-competitive and monopolistic. However, in March 2005, Judge Frank Polozola upheld Louisiana’s florist licensing law, citing public health and safety concerns.

Despite the ruling, the women continue to fight for the opportunity to become professional florists in Louisiana.

Sources: The Institute for Justice, The Louisiana Horticulture Commission

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