Do You Have a License to Move that Chair?

Rep. Dan Greenberg takes on Arkansas' interior design cartel

"I can understand wanting a sex offender registry. But I have a hard time finding the necessity of a interior designer registry." Meet Rep. Dan Greenberg (R-Little Rock), an Arkansas state legislator who likes to make trouble. For those who aren't going to make it down to Little Rock to meet the man in person, imagine a young Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), without some of his stranger "family values" fixations, transplanted to the Arkansas state legislature. He's worked for the Cato Institute and is a senior editor at the libertarian-friendly academic journal Critical Review.

Legislative sessions have historically occurred only every other year in Arkansas, so there's lots of time for extracurricular activities, and one of Greenberg's hobbies is apparently reading policy papers from the D.C. economic liberty litigators at the Institute for Justice. One of their current hobbyhorses: Interior design cartels. In 22 states, including Arkansas, it is illegal to call yourself an interior designer without going through an arduous and expensive certification process. In Nevada, it's illegal to do interior design without a license. That's right, advising someone about drapes could land you in the hoosegow.

Like many states, Arkansas has an Interior Design Board. The sole purpose of this board is to register interior designers. The IJ paper notes that "consumer complaints about interior designers to state regulatory boards are extremely rare. Since 1998 an average of one designer out of every 289 has received a complaint for any reason. Nearly all of those complaints, 94.7 percent, concern whether designers are properly licensed—not the quality of their service."

In 2007, Greenberg voted against the continued funding of the Interior Design Board, along with his ideological partners in crime in the legislature, former Rep. Jon Woods (R-Springdale) and Rep. Aaron Burkes (R-Benton). Says Greenberg: "My wife, after seeing the movie 300 with me, once commented: 'Hey, you guys are just like the 300—except, for you, it's just the 3!'" For now, funding is on hold for the board, and Greenberg hopes to kill it in the next session.

Greenberg made a bit of a splash in 2007 by trying to prohibit politicians from putting their names on public buildings. House Bill 1035 would have prohibited naming buildings that received 50 percent or more of their funding from the public coffers after people who held elected office within the ten years prior to the building's construction. True fogies—75 or older and retired—were assumed to be past their trouble-making days and therefore exempted from the ban. "I think the other senators thought I was some kind of a class traitor or something," he says.

This session, Greenberg started asking questions about the state's Interior Design Board and ran into opposition right away. "My experience is that a lot of these debates or discussions are driven by sentiment," says Greenberg. "One of the senators got really upset and offended. She said, ‘Look, the work that interior designers do is very important. And furthermore, my daughter is an interior designer.'" That was state Sen. Mary Anne Salmon (D-North Little Rock).

Sen. Terry Smith (D-Hot Springs) wondered why everyone was getting "heartburn" over $11,000 dollars, which is what the agency costs the state. "There's incredible institutional, psychological, and moral pressure" to go along, says Greenberg.

Smith is right, of course. All of this is small potatoes, not much more important than whether the walls in the powder room should be mauve or rose. These kinds of tiny squabbles are utterly typical of state legislative politics. But state level politics can matter. The lobbying wing of the interior design cartel has pushed 70 bills in 20 states over the last few years, for a total of about 6 million dollars, with mercifully limited success, mostly because IJ has been roughing people up and leaving (figurative) horse heads on their Laura Ashley sheets.

David Sanders, a former Huckabee aide and longtime Arkansas political columnist says, "Dan represents a school of thought that has been underrepresented in the state of Arkansas, probably since its founding. We have free market conservatives here, but Dan is really giving heart and voice to those arguments."

Perhaps this is just the warm-up for a chance to be persnickety on a bigger stage: There's a chance that a seat will open up in the House of Representatives next cycle. The current occupant of Arkansas' 2nd district seat, 61-year-old Democrat Vic Snyder, will soon be the proud father of newborn triplets. Wonder if he needs any help decorating the nursery?

Katherine Mangu-Ward is an associate editor of reason.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • SIV||

    'Look, the work that interior designers do is very important. And furthermore, my daughter is an interior designer.'"

    State Legislators, what would we do without them?

  • Lefiti||

    Geez, why does everybody on the right look so dorkish?

    Anyway, if Obama and his statist liberals get their radical universal health care plan through, we will be enslaved just like the poor grey masses of Canada, the UK, Sweden and France, unable to say what we think or read what we want. Like them, we will be huddled together, unarmed and at the mercy of the state police. Those of you who have travelled to these grim places know what I am talikng about.

    DONATE NOW!

  • ||

    Cue the people who defend "interior design" as some esoteric discipline that requires state oversight to prevent unqualified "designers" from wreaking ergonomic hostile havoc on interiors throughout the land.

    Oh yeah, almost forgot to deliver this impportant message-
    Lefiti, you are wanted in the barn. The ewes miss you.

  • Seward||

    Lefiti,

    I would note that at least in the case of France and the UK they have laws related to national security which most on the American left would think makes the PATRIOT ACT and other similar legislation look benign by comparison.

    ...unable to say what we think or read what we want.

    As I understand it a number of those countries ban certain types of books which are not banned in the U.S. and make illegal certain types of speech which is not illegal in this country.

  • Lefiti||

    Dorks are us! That's the libs!

  • ||

    "Nearly all of those complaints, 94.7 percent, concern whether designers are properly licensed-not the quality of their service."

    ...and nearly all complaints were thus likely submitted by other licensed interior designers assuring themselves against infringement on their exclusive profession. Ah, guilds!

  • Geotpf||

    This is the type of stuff that can be killed by a combination of libertarian-leaning Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans, but probably can't be killed by libertarian-leaning Republicans alone. That is, I want to see more semi-libertarians winning Democratic primaries, damnit, and I want to see actual libertarians support them.

  • SIV||

    I want to see more semi-libertarians winning Democratic primaries

    To have "more" first we need to have "any".

  • ||

    It seems like interior designers are more regulated than engineers...

  • ||

    Dan-Greenberg.com -- say what you like about the guy, but he has an absolutely terrific website!

  • Andy||

    Good for him. Bad for that lady who's daughter is an interior designer. A great example of why politics sucks so much. You would think there would always be a majority to crush that special interest whining, but it doesn't seem to happen.

  • ||

    Sadly no one cares about the little guy. These kinds of laws just screw outsiders and people trying to break into a profession. If the Democrats were actually concerned with working people rather than just hoping to manipulate them and get them on the dole, they would be the first ones to go after these laws.

  • ||

    This is the state that hates gays so much that they voting to outlaw adoptions even for straight unmarried blood relatives. I am surprised interior design is even legal.

  • Geotpf||

    SIV | November 7, 2008, 3:51pm | #

    I want to see more semi-libertarians winning Democratic primaries

    To have "more" first we need to have "any".


    My prototype would be Russ Feingold, minus the campaign finance stuff.

  • ||

    Lefiti, it's good to see that Sarah Palin's practice of ignoring the topics and spewing gibberish about whatever crosses her mind has found an acolyte. Carry on! We need to be constantly reminded.

    Regarding licensed interior designers ... obviously most of you have not witnessed the horrors an unlicensed ID can unleash. Black couches with big, red flowers, anyone?

  • ||

    My prototype would be Russ Feingold, minus the campaign finance stuff.

    Feingold has taken some good stands, but mostly for the wrong reasons. He really has no instinctive attraction to liberty or aversion to the Total State; he mostly just doesn't like some of the particular uses for the Total State that have been proposed.

    Exhibit A: As a "deficit hawk", he is really a tax increaser. He has no problem with the government taking on massive, open-ended liabilities.

    Still, he's a smart and complex guy, but I would call him more of an accidental and occasional libertarian.

  • Cheap Shot Artist||

    I'm just surprised to learn that Arkansas has interior designers. Is it really that tough to mount Big Mouth Billy Bass on faux-pine paneling?

  • Geotpf||

    His record of votes (again, exempting campaign finance) is more Libertarian than the vast majority of Republicans, pretty much everybody other Paul. Yes, he believes in basic Democratic principles like a social safety net. He's a Democrat, duh. But he voted against all of the following:

    The Iraq war
    Earmarks for things such as the Bridge to Nowhere and the Woodstock museum
    FISA
    The Patriot Act
    Renewal of the Assault Weapons ban
    Communications Decency Act
    The recent finacial bailout

    That's more than "an accidental and occasional libertarian". That's a Libertarian Democrat, and 90-99% of Republicans voted for at least one of those things, and the majority of Republicans voted for the majority of them. Compare the voting records of Paul and Feingold on non-spending bills, and you would be surprised at the similiarities.

    Feingold really stands out in this area.

    Here's an oldish (2005) scorecard for him, scoring him from a "libertarian democrat" perspective", giving him a rating of 90%:

    http://freedomdemocrats.org/SenateScorecard01Total

    Second place was only 65%; a wide gap.

  • ||

    Geoptf - don't get me wrong - I know Russ Feingold, and think he's a smart guy. I just don't think he is a principled, small/limited government libertarian. He draws some lines in the right places, but he draws others in the wrong places, and many of his "good" votes on various bills have to be put in the context of "bad" votes on other, related bills.

    A few examples:

    Earmarks for things such as the Bridge to Nowhere and the Woodstock museum

    While Feingold has some cred as a clean gov't guy and a good record of opposing odious earmarking, he is not about shrinking government. Don't mistake the one for the other. He's from the tax more school of budget hawk, not the spend less school.

    Renewal of the Assault Weapons ban

    Feingold carries no brief for the Second Amendment or gun rights. He voted for the Assault Weapons ban the first time; not sure why he switched his vote. He has plenty of other votes on the wrong side of gun rights, though, I know that. I put this in the accidental/occasional column.

    Communications Decency Act

    The man is obviously no friend of the First Amendment, so I suspect this one of those got it right for the wrong reasons votes. Why did he vote against it, anyway? Until he works for repeal of McCain-Feingold, he'll never be anything other than an accidental libertarian on free speech issues.

    I'd like to see more like Feingold in the Dem party; he's smarter and more principled than most. I just wish he didn't have such an a la carte view of liberty, and wasn't, at heart, a communitarian.

  • ||

    Um ... is Feingold an unlicensed interior designer? I'm missing the connection to the article.

  • Geotpf||

    James Butler | November 7, 2008, 5:53pm | #

    Um ... is Feingold an unlicensed interior designer? I'm missing the connection to the article.


    My point is that if libertarians support more Feingolds in Democratic primaries, battles like this would be much easier to win.

  • Bob F. Sheridan||

    Rep. Dan Greenberg is the offspring of Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Paul Greenberg.

  • ||

    I'm from Arkansas and this is about par for our state. God forbid we were able to unregulate something.

    Greenberg is one of the few Republicans in our state that is actually Republican. Most are 80's Democrats that are pro life, kinda like the Huck.

    And yes, his father is a wonderful columnist. He is the ONLY reason to read the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

  • ||

    "I can understand wanting a sex offender registry. But I have a hard time finding the necessity of a interior designer registry." Meet Rep. Dan Greenberg (R-Little Rock), an Arkansas state legislator who likes to make trouble.

    I can't understand wanting a sex offender registry.

  • ||

    The highest emotion.

    In a winding
    road you can
    find the light
    of a barrier, and
    always, when
    you try to
    forget her, a
    lovely emotion
    discovers in sips
    a delicate candle.

    Francesco Sinibaldi

  • ||

    I'm supposing that someone somewhere n=mentioned to the good folks here at Reason that there is a difference between interior design and interior DECORATION. One actually uincorporates principles of materials design, civil engineering, architecture, and requires a DEGREE from a certified college of architecture and interior design. The other buys plants, paintings, and moves chairs.

    I get the whole "regulation isw bad" schtick. But we on the right would look a great deal less foolish if we knew what we were bitching about before we started bitching.

  • Hucbald||

    If you rephrase, "libertarian Democrat" as, "libertarian socialist," you'll understand the ridiculousness of the concept, plus, you'll have your answer as to why there aren't any.

  • clifford||

    I am a (small L) libertarian, a licensed architect, and married to a licensed interior designer. THat said now let me ruffle your (big L) Libertarian throw pillows:

    Just as "architectural designers" or "residential designers" are not the same as licensed architects, interior designers are NOT the same as interior decorators. Both interior designers and interior decorators deal with finishes, true, but the former are formally trained designers who work in all spheres of the design world, the commercial design sphere - the latter do not. This is an important distinction, as on the commercial side there are HSW issues concerning Codes (IBC, NFPA-101, ADAAG, etc.), which spill over into compliant space planning, compliant finish selections, etc. (Residential and some small commercial is often exempted from those Codes - e.g. the ADAAG)

    I have, on more then one occasion, I have seen first-hand the results of the untrained "designer." In one case a client's "designer" (his girlfriend) had a contractor change our floor plan and created Life Safety issues big enough to deny Occupancy. In another, the "designers" for an office furniture company "improved" our furniture layout and our millwork details, resulting in Life Safety and ADAAG violations that again compromised Occupancy.

    I agree that if licensure is a feel-good - that is, it has no compelling state interest in protecting health, safety, and welfare - it should not be undertaken. But if the reason is to maintain HSW and professional practice, then good. Our interior designer does a helluva lot more than pick paint - she is responsible for the whole finish package. She is our expert on materials, writes our Division 9 specs, is conversant with the Codes (ADAAG requirements, flame spreads, smoked developed, etc.), handles Division 9 submittals, punchlists, and much more. And yes, she does handle the furniture package when that is part of the scope.

    Ever see Hildi do all that on 'Trading Spaces?' Didn't think so.

    As a libertarian I only want the state to be involved where it has a compelling interest, and no other. In the case of Interior Designers, as a design professional I think the case exists.

  • ||

    Please note that there is a difference between interior designer and interior decorator. An interior designer is very similar to an architect.

    That said, I don't see why they have to be licensed. But a better case can be made that you shouldn't need a license to practice law. As long as you disclose your education to your clients, you shouldn't be blocked by government from performing all forms of law work.

  • ||

    Clifford:

    +1.

    This is a stupid rant by a petty politician, dealing with matters he doesn't understand.

    And yet we all suck out thumbs and wonder why it is voters are opting for the administrative state over "conservative" or "libertarian" politicians.

    Foucs on things that matter, for crying out loud.

  • clifford||

    "That's right, advising someone about drapes could land you in the hoosegow."

    Katherine: A great snark, but that is utter bullshit. As a subscriber for more than 15 years, I expected more from a Reason editor.

  • Dr. Lumplevin||

    I am glad people in government are looking after my color combination and furniture arrangement needs. Can you imagine the disaster if an inept unregulated designer advised me to buy a coffee table when what I needed was a console table? What if I wanted Italian design but a inscrupulous designer of furniture salesman sold me Mediterranean instead? Can you imagine the hurt, the anguish, the humiliation? The operation of this agency and bureacracy is public money well spent in my view.

  • thenakedemperor||

    Y'all are all missing the point. Designers must be licensed just in case they ask a question of the President-elect, and he gives an embarrassing answer. This way, the designer's confidential computer records can be released to destroy their character.

    Tee Hee

  • clifford||

    Dr. Lumplevin:

    Licensure has NOTHING whatsoever to do with your examples. It is not about colors or styles. It has to do with making sure that those who are responsible for making decisions with regard to HSW - application of NFPA-101, IBC, ADAAG, etc. - are competent to do so.

    No one is going before a judge because they advised you to go with the solid color drapes over the print, or put blue with mauve, or your coffee table choices. Please.

  • Chrispy||

    It has to do with making sure that those who are responsible for making decisions with regard to HSW - application of NFPA-101, IBC, ADAAG, etc. - are competent to do so.

    Even if any of those concerns were serious enough to warrant a regulating body for interior designers (and I dispute that any of them are), that still doesn't justify a state-controlled cartel. Private organizations could do the same job better, more efficiently, and without wasting tax dollars or preventing people from practicing their chosen profession.

  • obvious||

    parse | November 8, 2008, 11:39am | #

    "I can understand wanting a sex offender registry. But I have a hard time finding the necessity of a interior designer registry." Meet Rep. Dan Greenberg (R-Little Rock), an Arkansas state legislator who likes to make trouble.

    I can't understand wanting a sex offender registry.



    Then you don't have children.

  • ||

    This whole interior designer licensing thing has been driven by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) to force thier agenda on the industry (power) and increase their membersip rolls (Money)

  • ||

    Professional licensing is a State-responsibility and it protects the public from those individual not competent to practice said profession. An individual possessing a State-issued professional license has demonstrated a minimal competence in the profession. That's the way it goes. If you purchase regulated services from an unlicensed person, you're getting what you pay for - and you probably can't sue, though the unlicensed person may go to jail for practicing without a license.

    If you want to practice a regulated profession, get the license and charge accordingly.

  • ||

    Perhaps we can do without any regulatory board. Why do we need them for lawyers, engineers or architects plus cosmeticians and even bovine sex implanters. Do away with the whole lot save the money for some silly expense and let freedom ring. Let the lawyers go first.

  • ||

    As an Interior Designer, I appreciate that one person knows what a applies to a "Licensed Interior Designer"(see above - .clifford | November 8, 2008, 9:52pm). ADA guidelines, fire egress, building codes????

    It's a good thing that people have to know and understand these rules/regulations.

    And completely agreed -
    "Focus on things that matter, for crying out loud."

    Does this really fit into the bigger picture of things?

  • clifford||

    "Even if any of those concerns were serious enough to warrant a regulating body for interior designers (and I dispute that any of them are)"

    Crispy: Do you know what NFPA 101, IBC, and the ADAAG are? Do you know how they are applied? If you do, how can you say that?

    Et. Al.: As libertarians, I think we agree that the state has no right to interfere in the exercise of our rights, unless that exercise negatively impacts on the rights of others. But many here seem to be under the mis-understanding that the what the designer and owner consent to undertake concerns only their rights alone. It does not. What of the rights of those who have to use that design who have no consent, such as employees and the public? Do they not have the right to be safe, and not be danger from injury or death? That is the reason we have Building Codes, Fire Codes, Electrical Codes, Accessibility Codes, etc. - not to protect some conspiratorial cartel, but to protect the life, health, and safety of those other than the owner and designer whose rights may be impacted. Therefore, does not the state, in order to protect the impact of third parties from denial of their rights, have a compelling interest in seeing that those who have to apply those standards are qualified to do so?

    Bigger question: Why do all-or-nothing ideologue Libertarians always see prevention as some kind of evil?

  • Dan Greenberg||

    One relevant fact that is perhaps not clear from the discussion above is that -- in Arkansas -- anybody can call themselves an "interior designer" and do business in the state. However, to bill oneself as a "registered interior designer," you must have 6 years of education and training and pay a registration fee.

    It is hard for me to see any justification for this scheme, since I don't understand how anybody is being protected from bad interior designers -- since anybody can call him- or herself an interior designer, as long as there is no use of the r-word. However, if you understand this legislation as the first step in creating a cartel that harms consumers, I think the real justification is easier to understand (although more difficult to sympathize with!).

    As a student of government, one thing I have observed repeatedly is that good intentions are not a sufficient ingredient for good policy. I think many people who advocate regulatory schemes of one kind or another have good intentions. However, the fact that, as the IJ study referenced in the article says, "there are no statistically significant differences in the average number of complaints against [interior design] companies in highly regulated states, less-regulated states and states with no regulation" suggests to me that regulatory schemes involving interior designers -- that necessarily burden companies and consumers -- should meet a high burden of proof before we conclude that they are good policy.

  • ||

    The Institute for Justice has done a lot of good work in fighting and often overturning occupational licensing laws, including interior design. Unlike Reason which just complains and complains.

  • Chrispy||

    Do you know what NFPA 101, IBC, and the ADAAG are? Do you know how they are applied? If you do, how can you say that?

    NFPA 101 is the Life Safety Code, which are a bunch of rules supposedly designed to prevent fire damage. IBC is the International Building Code, which also deals with fire safety and also emergency exits and so on. ADAAG are the ADA Accessibility Guidelines. None of those justify a state licensing scheme, the state doesn't have any legitimate authority over any of those areas.

    If I want to live in what you judge as an unsafe house, or work in an unsafe office, that's my choice. Who are you to take that right away from me? If you're really so concerned about it, you should be free to set up your own private certification system.

  • LarryA||

    If the Democrats were actually concerned with working people rather than just hoping to manipulate them and get them on the dole, they would be the first ones to go after these laws.

    This is the "Joe isn't a plumber because he's not licensed" party.

  • GILMORE||

    clifford | November 9, 2008, 1:26pm | #

    "Et. Al.: As libertarians...


    ...

    What the fuck.

    First off, as far as I'm aware, "et al" means "and others" and is mostly used to refer to a group of people, not a loose string of thoughts. You a lawyer, or just play one on TV?

    2 - are you suggesting that without the state interior design board, that fire safety codes are being violated throughout the state of AK? Prove it. Plus, I assume that fire safety boards dont apply to private residences, so who the fuck cares?

    lastly

    Larry C | November 9, 2008, 4:21pm | #

    ...Unlike Reason which just complains and complains.


    ..and big ups the IFJ constantly. Whats your point? that this isnt some political action committee? Complaining is part of what needs doing, homie. get a grip

  • ||

    "That said, I don't see why they have to be licensed. But a better case can be made that you shouldn't need a license to practice law. As long as you disclose your education to your clients, you shouldn't be blocked by government from performing all forms of law work."

    So if I'm on trial for Murder One or am desperately fighting for my child's custody, it's my responsibility to track down the information that, while my prospective lawyer did indeed graduate from Harvard Law ten years ago, he hasn't been able to squeeze much trial experience into the brief intervals between his own felony convictions? I'd prefer that the State Bar at least try to weed out these characters on my behalf.

  • Dave Barnes||

    @Clifford

    Next, you will suggest that Architects be licensed. And, then: hairdressers, barbers, undertakers, florists, bartenders, etc.

    Why?
    The market will quickly eliminate the incompetent.

    ,dave

  • Chrispy||

    I doubt anyone will read this (since the post is already buried), but just in case anyone was inclined to buy into clifford's BS, here's a more in-depth analysis I'd urge you to look over: http://www.ij.org/images/pdf_folder/economic_liberty/Interior-Design-Study.pdf

    The market will quickly eliminate the incompetent.

    Hear, hear. This seems so patently obvious to me that it's hard to understand how anyone could just not 'get it.' Just looking at this thread, it appears that around 100% of the people who support state-controlled Interior Design licenses are themselves state-licensed Interior Designers. No surprises there...

  • David Nieporent||

    Please note that there is a difference between interior designer and interior decorator. An interior designer is very similar to an architect.

    Actually, an interior designer is very similar to an interior decorator. The former want to be seen as "very similar to an architect" as a self-aggrandizing ploy to create a cartel to limit competition. Actual architects sneer at the notion that interior designers are anything like them.

  • David Nieporent||

    Licensure has NOTHING whatsoever to do with your examples. It is not about colors or styles. It has to do with making sure that those who are responsible for making decisions with regard to HSW - application of NFPA-101, IBC, ADAAG, etc. - are competent to do so.

    Anybody who has actually looked at "interior design" curricula in schools or the content of the NCIDQ knows that these sorts of alleged safety issues represent a very minor part of the certification process.

    And anybody who has paid attention knows that interior designers are licensed in very few states, and yet we don't see the mass casualty events from buildings that were improperly designed by all these allegedly untrained, unlicensed interior decorators.

    Indeed, as the article itself notes, virtually all complaints about interior designers are protectionist complaints about licensing, not safety-related issues.

  • David Nieporent||

    Plus, I assume that fire safety boards dont apply to private residences, so who the fuck cares?

    Sadly, fire safety rules do apply to private residences. Renovating my house now, and we're required to put in something like one smoke detector for every square inch of ceiling. Approximately. Or we don't get our permit and get fined.

  • RSDavis||

    Hey! You stole my title!! ;)

    http://www.nolanchart.com/article4640.html

  • ||

    The real story here is that so many people have absolutely no clue what the difference is between an interior decorator and an interior designer. (Hint: it involves the ability to deal with load bearing walls.)

    I do think it's ridiculous that you're describing a professional organization as a cabal or a lobby group.

  • zentai suit||

    yes, I agree.

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