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Jax Daily Record Friday, Sep. 16, 201112:00 PM EST

Interior designers take case to U.S. Supreme Court

by: Michael Peltier

Arguing that Florida law cramps their style, a group of unlicensed interior designers is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out Florida’s law regulating the profession.

Months after lawmakers rejected a measure to deregulate the profession, a group of designers and the National Federation of Independent Business filed a petition with the nation’s highest court to throw out a Florida law that sets professional entrance standards and requires interior designers to register with the state.

“Restrictions on occupational speech will continue to proliferate given the strong incentives for interest groups to erect anticompetitive barriers to entry like Florida’s six-year licensing track for interior designers,” attorneys for the plaintiffs concluded in their 21-page brief.

“First Amendment values are at stake,” they said.

Thursday’s petition is the latest in a series of legal and political confrontations pitting Florida regulators and licensed interior designers against others who say the state is just one of a handful that needlessly requires designers to be licensed.

Plaintiffs in the petition argue that the Florida law prohibits aspiring interior designers from “offering even harmless advice about such mundane subjects as the placement of office furniture.” The licenses instead cost designers thousands of dollars and years to obtain.

Ed Nagorsky, general counsel for the National Kitchen and Bath Association, said the industry group supports legislation to deregulate the industry, the regulation of which does not serve a useful purpose. The group hopes lawmakers will return to the issue again next year and pass the legislation.

“We’re hoping the Legislature will take another look,” Nagorsky said. “Obviously, we hope the bill is more successful next year.”

Earlier this year, Florida lawmakers failed to pass a measure (HB 5005) that would repeal licensure requirements for interior designers and other professionals.

The bill passed the House but was unacceptable to the Senate, which overwhelmingly rejected the amended bill.

Critics say interior designers can do much more harm than pairing plaids with stripes. An interior designer’s suggestions, they argue, can dictate structural and engineering decisions that affect building integrity and personal safety.

The case is being litigated by the Institute of Justice, a self-described Libertarian public interest law firm in Arlington, Va.

In a statement, the institute’s president said the lawsuit deals with more than interior designers. The decision will impact all businesses owners whose primary job is to advise clients and offer suggestions, a freedom the current licensure law prohibits.

“This case gives the court the opportunity to reaffirm the importance of judicial engagement by making clear that, in every constitutional case, lower courts must require the government to produce genuine evidence to support restrictions on fundamental liberties like the right to free speech,” Institute President and General Counsel Chip Mellon said in a statement.

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