Occupational licenses for florists could soon become a thing of the past in Louisiana – the only state that requires a license to arrange flowers.

The House Agriculture Committee on Thursday narrowly approved House Bill 561 by Rep. Julie Emerson, a Carencro Republican who has made rolling back the state's onerous occupational licensing requirements a priority for this session.

"I have great respect for the craft and the talent our florists have," Emerson said during Thursday's hearing on her bill. "I think this bill helps those that do have that talent share it in the least restrictive way."

Under the proposed legislation, florists would still have to obtain a "floral dealer" permit, but they would no longer have to pass a 40-question test to become licensed.

The permit, obtained through the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry, would cost up to $140 as the bill is currently written. Emerson said that would create a safeguard against any safety threats posed by plant disease, pests or invasive species.

The bill now heads to the House floor for consideration.

"It's just a question of whether or not we feel that it warrants this type of regulation and the barrier to entry," Emerson said.

Currently, there are more than 2,100 licensed retail and wholesale florists in Louisiana.

Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, noted that the existing florists have already spent hours training and taking tests.

"Being licensed, to me, is not necessarily to obstruct business or stop someone from growing business, it's to protect consumers," said Schexnayder, who voted against Emerson's bill.

Emerson said she doesn't believe that licensing is necessary for consumer protection, because word of mouth will spread if florists are bad at their jobs.

"That's how competition and the free market works," she said.

The Institute for Justice released a report last fall that showed Louisiana and Washington license more lower-income occupations it analyzed than any other state — 77 of 102 jobs. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has frequently noted that Louisiana is the only state in that report to require licensing of florists.

The effort is among Edwards' priorities for the regular session that started this month – a move that aligns the Democratic governor with more conservative interest groups with which he's often at odds. One of Edwards' top aides spoke in favor of Emerson's overview bill Tuesday and Edwards himself has often mentioned the florist license as something the state should consider eliminating.

Emerson has several other bills this session that seek to roll back occupational licenses.

House Bill 562, also heading to the House floor, would 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 also calls for each body that oversees licensing to be subjected to detailed review in the coming year to justify licensing requirements.

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

How they voted:

For eliminating the occupational license for florists (8): Reps. Brass, Emerson, Gisclair, Guinn, Hall, Hensgens, Reynolds and Stefanski.

Against (7): Reps. Schexnayder, Anders, T. Brown, Chaney, Howard, Pylant.


Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.