Occupational Licensing

Will Michigan Create an Interior Design Guild?

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Last month, Michigan state senators Judith Emmons (R-Clinton County) and James Marleau (R-North Oakland) introduced a bill that would force interior designers to obtain a license before performing any of the myriad services that constitute interior design for paying customers. (It will still be legal to shop for furniture, arrange pillows, recommend color schemes, and select ergonomic chairs for oneself.)  

The bill (S.B. 1325) creates a Board of Licensed Interior Design, which would ensure designers spend a combined six years attaining a degree and apprenticing experience before passing a national test. Not coincidentally, these are the same requirements that enable one to join the professional association, the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), that is pushing the law in an effort to create a nationwide interior design cartel.

It isn't the ASID's first trip to Michigan—similar measures failed in 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, and 2009—after legislators specifically excluded interior designers from a law regulating other professions passed in 1998.

Via Michigan Live:

"Anyone in this state can claim to be an interior designer with no education, training, or experience putting the public at great risk," said Linda Thomas, president of ASID's Michigan affiliate, the Coalition for Interior Design Registration (in support of the failed 2007 bill).

There is a yawning, gaping, utter and profound abyss in place of empirical support for the claim that unlicensed designers threaten the public. The bill's sole purpose is to endow a handful of designers, who don't feel customers should be free to select less-credentialed competitors, with a regulatory cudgel to restrict entry into the industry.

If passed, the law would be Michigan's most onerous—no other middle-income occupation faces a six-year licensing hurdle. (According to the Dictionary of Occupation Titles, median wages for interior designers in 2011 came to $47,620.)

The law as written would force many would-be designers into debt and price people out of an otherwise attractive career. In addition to earning diminished wages for two to four years as an intern, tuition for designers starts at $5,000 for two-year associate's programs at community college and costs as much as $135,000 for a four-year bachelor's degree (College for Creative Studies).

Consumers don't care about these credentials. Of the top 25 designers (complete with celebrity-studded client lists) in Los Angeles, as identified by the Hollywood Reporter this week, a grand total of two have bothered to register with the California Council for Interior Design, a private certification group with entry requirements similar to the ones in danger of being enshrined in Michigan law.

It hasn't been a good year for the interior design cartel. In California, a bill that would have replaced optional certification with state licensure went down in flames this April after the bill's sponsor (Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco) had trouble identifying any public health and safety justifications to skeptical fellow legislators. ASID-backed bills also failed in Colorado, Oregon, and South Carolina—thanks in large part to anti-licensing interior designer Patti Morrow, the National Kitchen and Bath Association, and the American Institute of Architects who show up to committee hearings to make the principled case against regulation—in 2012.

See here for an archive of Reason's interior design coverage.