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Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain and Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, discuss removing occupational licenses for florists during House Agriculture Committee on Thursday, March 29, 2018. In a close vote the committee sent House Bill 561 to the full House for consideration.

Advocate Photo by Mark Ballard

A full-court press to roll back some of Louisiana's strictest occupational licensing requirements appears to be heading the same path that many controversial topics travel at the State Capitol: A task force will study the issue.

Despite an unlikely combination of support from Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and conservative business lobbying groups, the effort to end licensing for florists and hair braiders, among other trades, has been shelved this session.

House Bill 748, which still must pass the full Senate before it can become law, instead calls on the Governor's Office to review all occupational licensing requirements within five years to determine whether they are necessary.

"The meat of it is still there," Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, said of her bill as it faces the Senate floor after being heavily amended in committee.

The effort to repeal the florist licensing requirement in Louisiana, which was rejected in a Senate committee this month, was the crown jewel of a broader push to review occupational licenses in the state, after a report last fall from the Institute for Justice found that Louisiana and Washington license more lower-income occupations it analyzed than any other state — 77 of 102 jobs.

Under HB748, the state would review every one of its occupational licensing requirements and determine whether changes are needed.

In its original version, the bill sought to put into state law that the ability to pursue lawful occupation is a fundamental right and the state will defer to the least restrictive regulation available while maintaining consumer safety. It was heavily amended in the Senate Commerce Committee to only require a review from the Governor's Office.

In addition to Edwards, the effort was backed by the conservative Americans for Prosperity, normally at odds with the Democratic governor.

"It's disappointing because I think we really could have done ourselves a favor as a state," said John Kay, the Louisiana state director for Americans for Prosperity.

But Kay said the review that appears to be heading to final passage is a good start. "It advances the ball in the right direction for us," he said.

Opponents of the effort say licensing in the state helps ensure consumer safety and satisfaction.

During a committee hearing on the florist bill, several people raised concerns about the potential threat of invasive pests and consumer protection issues, in general.

Emerson chalked most of the defeat up to a session that has been so focused on the budget.

State lawmakers are aiming toward an early end to the regular session so that lawmakers can begin a special session to try to address the $648 million "fiscal cliff" the state faces when temporary tax measures expire June 30. The House and Senate finance committee have advanced spending plans that leave large gaps in funding for state agencies that threaten programs. The full Senate is expected to take up House Bill 1, which carries the annual budget, next week, with hopes of transitioning to a revenue-raising special session as early as next week.

"Obviously, everything else has kind of taken a back seat," Emerson said.

Emerson said her intent is to sort out onerous licensing requirements that can be barriers to work and was not intended as a slight to professional florists.

"I've been working on this issue for over two years now," she said.

Edwards mentioned occupational licensing among his priorities in his session-starting State of the State address, and he has frequently noted in public speeches that Louisiana is the only state in that report to require licensing of florists.

The unusual nature of siding with the governor isn't lost on Kay.

"It's a unique opportunity, and they were a good partner throughout the process," he said. "We don't agree on a whole lot, and we're probably not going to agree on a whole lot in the special session, but in this case, it was the right move to work together."

He said he believes the issue will continue to gain traction.

"I think it gives us an opportunity look forward to 2019 and beyond and where we may be able to work with stakeholders on areas where we all might agree," Kay said. "It should be easier to work and no one is really put at harm."

Emerson said she's happy to have brought attention to the issue.

"There is going to be some pushback, and I believe that a lot of it is the fear of the unknown," she said.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.