Flower Power

Free the florists!


One day last year Sandy Meadows, who supervises the floral department at an Albertson's grocery store in Baton Rouge, was helping out at another Albertson's that had lost its florist. An inspector from the Louisiana Horticulture Commission stopped by and told her to throw out the seven arrangements she had produced that morning. Otherwise, he'd have to give her a $250 citation for practicing floristry without a license.

Although Meadows has nearly a decade of experience arranging flowers, state law requires that she practice her art only in stores that also employ a licensed florist. She does not qualify because she never passed the two-part licensing exam, which includes a one-hour written test and a highly subjective four-hour practical test judged by the very florists with whom applicants would compete. Unsurprisingly, most fail.

Louisiana appears to be the only state in the U.S. that does not trust consumers to judge the quality of floral arrangements. If Meadows gets her way, it will no longer have that distinction. In December she and two other women whose floral work has been praised by the public but rejected by the state filed a federal lawsuit challenging the licensing requirement as an arbitrary, unconstitutional infringement on their right to earn a living.

With help from the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice, Meadows and her fellow plaintiffs—Shamille Peters, a New Orleans woman who also has worked in an Albertson's floral department, and Barbara Peacock, a Shreveport woman who wants to open a wedding chapel—are asking a federal judge to declare the licensing barrier a violation of rights guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. They argue that the regulations fail the "rational basis" test because they do not serve a legitimate public purpose.

Seeming to concede that point, Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom told the Associated Press that if the floral industry asked him to scrap the licensing requirement he'd support legislation to do so. Clark Neily, the lead attorney in the case, notes that "asking licensed florists whether they wish to throw the industry open to all comers is like asking the fox if it wants to stop guarding the henhouse."