Rich Lowry

For those worried that tests around the country are systematically being watered down in a backlash against standards and accountability, there is good news and bad news out of Louisiana. The good news is that the Bayou State is maintaining the strictest possible standards and routinely handing out failing marks. The bad news is that it is doing so on a state-mandated floral exam that is so absurd it's like something out of "Monty Python's Flying Circus."

You can't become a florist in Louisiana without passing a ridiculously difficult and subjective state-licensing exam, which is a blatant way for existing florists to lock newcomers out of the market. During the past three years, the pass rate for the floral exam has been less than 50 percent. Louisiana is freewheeling when it comes to drunkenness, public nudity and political corruption, but boy, try to arrange flowers without proper accreditation, and the authorities will attempt to keep you from touching baby's breath in Louisiana ever again.

As you welcome poinsettias into your home this Christmas season, spare a thought for the targets of the Flower Police in Louisiana, and the victims of similar regulatory absurdities across the country. The Washington, D.C.-based public-interest law firm Institute for Justice has brought suit against the Louisiana law as part of its national campaign against such anti-competitive regulations, the sole purpose of which is to lock newcomers out of a given market. These regs are classic cases of the politically powerful, in the form of current business owners, twisting government to their ends.

The rules are usually profoundly silly, since they serve no public purpose. The Louisiana regulations, for instance, say that "cut-flower dealers" can sell flowers singly or in bunches without a license -- so long as they don't mix together different kinds of flowers or put the flowers in a vase, because that would constitute dangerous "floral arranging."

To become a licensed florist in Louisiana requires passing an exam that costs $150 to take and has a one-hour written test and a four-hour practical portion. For the practical section, an applicant makes arrangements that are judged on, among other things, whether the flowers have been "picked properly" and "spaced effectively." Current florists judge the tests and have an interest in having people fail so that they won't provide future competition (especially, of course, with ineffectively spaced flowers).

Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
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