Florists Fight Back in Louisiana Lawsuit

March 12, 2004 - 11:09

Three Louisiana women have filed a federal lawsuit with the Louisiana Horticulture Commission against the 65-year-old florist licensing law for anti-competitive, unconstitutional infringement on their right to earn a living. Louisiana is the only state in the country that requires anyone who wants to arrange and sell flowers to pass a two-part licensing exam.

Sandy Meadows, Shamille Peters and Barbara Peacock are the three plaintiffs in the case, which was filed on December 18, 2003. The women have all been working with flowers for several years but have been unable to pass the exam, forcing them to not excel in their careers. They are being represented by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice, who are asking a federal judge to declare the licensing requirement a violation of rights guaranteed by the 14th Amendment of due process, equal protection and "privileges of immunities," which include the right to earn a living.

The Institute argues that the regulations fail the "rational basis" test because they do not serve a legitimate public purpose. According to the Institute, the lead attorney in the case in senior attorney Clark Neily, who litigates economic liberty cases nationwide and who currently represents independent casket retailers in Oklahoma.

Cut flower dealers in Louisiana are regulated by the state of Louisiana, but they are not required to pass an exam. However, they may not sell different kinds of flowers together in the same bunch, since this could be construed as flower arranging, which only licensed florists can do. Also, cut flower dealers cannot sell flowers within three hundred feet of a retail florist establishment. People who sell floral designs from dried or artificial plants are not required to have a license or take an exam.

The state-mandated florist licensing exam is offered four times a year in Baton Rouge. It costs $150. When an individual signs up for the exam, the Horticulture Commission provides a handbook that contains some but not all of the information that will be in the exam. Applicants for the licensing exam must demonstrate their knowledge of such design principles as balance, scale, harmony, focal point, accents, repetition and unity — principles many florists would argue are highly subjective. The exam includes a one-hour written test and a four-hour hands-on, practical, "design phase. The pass rate for the floral exam has been well below 50 percent. Pass rates for the past several years are as follows: 2000—40%; 2001—37%; 2002—43%; 2003—46%.

The written exam covers design principles, color schemes, flower and foliage types, plant care and the mechanics of flower arranging. The design phase requires would-be florists to create four different floral arrangements under a short period of time. The applicants are graded on whether their design has the proper focal point, if flowers are spaced effectively and if the arrangement is an appropriate size. The design phase is judged by five licensed florists, the same florists the applicants would be competing with.

According to the Institute for Justice, score sheets for the licensing exam "show the test is graded in a haphazard, seemingly arbitrary fashion." For instance, one florist who passed the exam on her fifth attempt had varying scores. Five different judges graded the practical exam. On her wedding design, one judge gave a perfect ten, another gave her a five, and the three remaining gave her a zero. On deciding whether she used the correct size of wire on the greenery, three judges gave her a perfect five while the other two gave her a zero.

Although Sandy Meadows has been arranging flowers for nearly a decade, she has never managed to pass the state’s licensing exam. While working at Albertson’s Supermarket in Baton Rouge, an inspector from the Louisiana Horticulture Commission showed up at the store, telling Meadows that she was in violation of the law. The inspector told her she would have to throw away the seven floral designs or she would be issued a $250 citation for practicing floristry without a license.

Shamille Peters also worked in the floral department at Albertson’s Supermarket in Baton Rouge. To hone her skills and increase her changes of passing the state licensing exam, she enrolled in two 18-hour floral courses at Delgado Community College. She has failed the exam five times since 1997.

Barbara Peacock wants to open a wedding chapel. Like Peters, Peacock signed up for classes at her local community college. Three nights a week for nine weeks, she took an entire curriculum devoted to teaching would-be florists how to pass the state licensing exam. A florist who has served as a judge in the past taught her floral design course. Peacock has failed the exam twice.

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