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Federal Court Upholds Florida's Bizarre Interior Designer Licensing Law

An interior designer is not a medical doctor. An interior designer is not a lawyer, or a pharmacist, or a school teacher, or someone who transports hazardous chemicals that could kill large swaths of society.

Interior designers help you decide which colors look good in a bedroom or office and where the couch should go. Reductionist, sure, but the point is, there's no reason someone should need a state-issued license to call themselves an "interior designer."

And yet, last week, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the strange Florida law that prohibits people from calling themselves "interior designers" without the government's permission. As the law stands, it takes six years and thousands of dollars to get an interior design license in Florida.

Several would-be designers in South Florida filed a civil rights lawsuit against the state (with the help of the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based libertarian law firm), claiming the legal requirements inhibit the designers' "right to earn an honest living and communicate truthfully about interior design services they lawfully perform in Florida."

Attorneys representing the women behind the lawsuit point out that the licensing requirements -- which are about 15 years old -- block out new competition despite the fact that "there is no evidence that the unlicensed practice of interior design poses any threat to the public."

They say that their clients all went to school to study interior design and that now they just want to practice their newly chosen profession.

This ruling comes nearly two years after Federal District Judge Robert L. Hinkle signed an agreed injunction that prevented Florida's State Board of Architecture and Interior Design from enforcing the provisions of a Florida law that prevents decorators from advertising "interior design" services without state licensing, which required two years of classes, four years of apprenticeship (like Johnny Tremain, but gayer), and passing a special exam administered by a national design institute.

If it sounds silly -- because the thought of bickering interior designers can be funny -- think about this: More than 30 percent of professions now require some sort of licensing from the government. These requirements generally come from lobbyists representing the industry itself and often grandfather in already-practicing professionals. How many occupations should require six years of schooling and practicing before someone can do it for money?

Not long after the lawsuit was filed, Eva Locke, one of the petitioners, told me this: "Florida's law has been standing in the way of my ability to launch my career. It is devastating to be forbidden from using the most accurate terms to describe myself and my services when I try to reach potential clients."

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Michael J. Mooney

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