BATON ROUGE — Feel free to stop and smell the roses in Louisiana, but don't try to arrange them in a bouquet without an occupational license.
Louisiana is the only state in America where people can't work as florists without earning an occupational license, but a bill to change that won approval from the House Agriculture Committee Wednesday by an 8-6 vote.
House Bill 561 by Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Canrencro, has become symbolic of a wider attempt to to roll back the number of lower-income occupations requiring a license in Louisiana.
The state's requirement for florists has gained national attention. "It's absurd," a headline on an opinion column published this week in USA Today concluded.
Emerson's bill would still require florists obtain a permit, but it would eliminate the requirement to pass a 40-question written test. Before 2009, aspiring florists had to take a practical test as well.
"I'm not sure why we do that," Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has said.
Edwards targeted occupational license reform as a priority during his speech to begin the current Legislative Regular Session this month.
"We are cutting through the red tape and giving small businesses regulatory relief that costs them money and are overly burdensome," Edwards said. "First up — repealing licensing requirements for florists, which we are the only state in the nation to require."
Last fall the Institute for Justice ranked Louisiana as having the sixth-most burdensome licensing requirements, reporting the state requires licenses for 77 lower-income occupations.
Two more Emerson bill that would deregulate hair braiding (House Concurrent Resolution 7 and House Bill 564) also won committee approval this week, as did the Occupational Licensing Review Act (House Bill 748).
Edwards also supports legislation that would make it easier for children and spouses in military families to secure occupational licenses so they work when stationed here or have to be separated from their husband or wife during a deployment.
Occupational license reform has also secured support from conservative anti-tax groups that have found little other common ground with the governor.
"Arranging flowers shouldn't be a crime," Americans for Prosperity's Louisiana chapter director John Kay tweeted from the chapter's account.
Americans for Prosperity has funded a campaign supporting the Emerson's legislation through mailers and a digital petition.
Emerson and supporters argue that the florist regulations and other occupational license requirements can be a barrier to earning a living.
"Is it a threat to public health and safety?" she asked the committee.
"Clearly we're the outlier here," said state Rep. John M. Stefanski, R-Crowley, who made the motion to move Emerson's bill favorably.
But others, including Committee Chairman Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, opposed the bill.
"A lot of people have spent many hours training and taking these tests," Schexnayder said. "Being licensed to me is to protect the consumer. Without having those checks and balances in place we're not doing our duty."
Emerson's florist bill and her others now move to the full House for debate.
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1