Gov. John Bel Edwards wants state lawmakers in the regular session this year to review Louisiana's occupational licensing requirements that have been criticized as overly onerous – placing him on the side of pro-business groups that he's often at odds with.
"We're going to be looking at a number of things that we will do to move the state forward," Edwards, a Democrat, said of his yet-to-be-released agenda for the regular legislative session that begins March 12.
It's a new issue for Edwards, who heading into his third regular session since taking office is expected to again propose laws that have been previously shot down by the Legislature, including a minimum wage hike and equal pay legislation. Both have failed to gain traction, despite Edwards campaigning on the issues and personally pushing for their approval in the State Capitol.
Currently, Louisiana is the only state that requires licensing for florists and one of just four that requires licensing for interior designers – two licensing requirements that are frequently noted by critics.
"I'm not sure why we do that," Edwards said of the florist licensing requirement specifically.
He has not yet outlined which licenses that he thinks should be changed. Edwards has spent the past few months meeting with business leaders across the state, largely to discuss the state's finances and a looming $1 billion shortfall, but also to gather input for his session agenda, he said.
Edwards said he thinks reevaluating occupational licenses will help small businesses, putting him on the side of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, and Americans For Progress, among other more traditionally Republican-leaning groups.
“LABI has long supported smart deregulation across various industry sectors as well as reforms to Louisiana’s occupational licensing system," LABI President Stephen Waguespack said. "Especially as our economy struggles to overcome the current recession, we need to remove as many obstacles to good jobs as possible. Regulatory reform is a great place to start."
He said that the Legislature got the ball rolling with some deregulation efforts last year and LABI is willing to work with the Edwards administration and lawmakers to further those efforts.
A November report from the Institute for Justice called on Louisiana to repeal some occupational licenses or adopt scaled-back regulatory alternatives when licenses are needed to ensure safety.
It found that Louisiana licenses 77 of the 102 lower-income occupations the institute studied and often Louisiana's laws were more burdensome. The state tied Washington for the most occupations licensed.
Licenses come at varying costs and education requirements – often they cost hundreds of dollars. Many include a written exam.
Many of the licenses are handled through governor-appointed boards. Some have staff that are paid through the licensing fees that they collect.
For example, Louisiana is one of just four states to require interior design licensing.
The seven-member Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Interior Designers has a part-time executive director that records show is paid $32,500 a year.
For the past two years, the board has budgeted nearly $7,000 for board members travel, including $2,000 each year for out-of-state travel to conferences.
In an email on Friday in response to The Advocate's request for comment, LSBEID director Sandy Edmonds said she is out of the office on vacation until Tuesday. She did not offer further comment.
The board's website offers up a defense of licensing the practice on its welcome page.
"The practice of interior design involves life safety codes, the Americans with Disabilities Act, fire or building codes, or any other regulatory code or ordinance," it reads. "The board accomplishes this mission by ensuring that those entering the professional practice of interior design meet and maintain the qualifications, standards and professionalism required to competently practice their profession in Louisiana."
Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain, a Republican whose agency oversees the licensing for florists, tree trimmers and other related fields, said licensing helps protect consumers. He said he had not spoken to Edwards about the issue.
"There's a certain amount of regulation to make sure the public gets what they pay for," he said. "If you're running a floral business, you have to have a license – you have to know what you're doing."
Louisiana previously required florists go through a practical exam – physically make an arrangement that could be judged as part of the licensing process. But, the Legislature in 2010 did away with that requirement, so florists now have to take a written exam only.
"(Without licensing) you're going to set up a situation where anybody can open a floral shop and there's no method to regulate the industry and protect the public," Strain said.
He said that tree trimmers could cause significant damage if they don't know what they are doing.
"Would you want an arborist working around your house that wasn't licensed and insured?" Strain said.