Death by Decorator

The Wall Street Journal reports on a heated battle in Florida over whether to deregulate commercial interior designers – that is, to allow just anyone to hang out a shingle and seek customers looking for office design. It turns out the question is fraught with more danger than one might have realized. Herewith, the opening of the Journal’s comprehensive report:

MIAMI—Interior designers may seem to inhabit a genial world of pastel palettes and floral motifs. But right now in this state, their industry is locked in an indecorous pillow fight over who has the right to design.

Florida is one of only three states that require commercial interior designers to become licensed before they hang a single painting in an office building, school or restaurant. A bill making its way through the state legislature, however, would deregulate the occupation, along with more than a dozen others, including yacht brokers and hair braiders.

That possibility has the state’s licensed interior designers ruffled. They’ve hired Ron Book, one of the state’s most influential lobbyists, to fight the bill. And they’ve stormed legislative hearings to warn of the mayhem that would ensue if the measure passes.

Among the scenarios they’ve conjured: flammable carpets sparking infernos; porous countertops spreading bacteria; jail furnishings being turned into weapons.

The thought of “someone in my position that thinks they know what they’re doing because they watched HGTV for two weeks scares me,” licensed interior designer Terra Sherlock said at a hearing in March.

Another licensed designer, Michelle Earley, argued that use of the wrong fabrics in hospitals could spread infection. By deregulating, she told lawmakers, “what you’re basically doing is contributing to 88,000 deaths every year,” citing a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on deaths from hospital-acquired infections.

Though the CDC study doesn’t mention interior design as a cause of infections, Ms. Earley says that bacteria can spread if moisture-resistant fabrics aren’t used on things like chairs and mattresses. That, in turn, can lead to urinary tract infections, staph and other life-threatening conditions, she says.

Interior design “sounds like this simple hanging curtains on a wall,” said Ms. Earley in an interview. But “it only takes a couple things to go wrong for people to lose their lives.”

Scary.

For a more skeptical look at the need to protect the public from unlicensed hair braiders, ballroom-dance-studio owners, and interior designers, see this column by Cato chairman and Floridian Bob Levy. In February the Wall Street Journal reported that occupational licensing is actually spreading, despite decades of criticism from economists.