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House committee votes to cut oversight of about 30 professions

TALLAHASSEE — The deregulation fever consuming state lawmakers is paving the way for an end to oversight of nearly 30 professions.

A bill to dismantle regulation of interior designers, geologists, dance studios, mold inspectors, hair braiders and others cleared its first House committee stop Tuesday.

Backers of the measure, which repeals licensing and examination requirements, say it will boost the economy by making it easier to open small businesses.

That's a philosophy expressed by elected officials at all levels, with both President Barack Obama and Florida Gov. Rick Scott saying getting rid of unnecessary regulations will create jobs.

But the concept is not without controversy.

People on both sides delivered emotional public testimony during Tuesday's discussion, with much time spent on commercial interior designers.

More than once, committee chairman Rep. Esteban Bovo, R-Hialeah, remarked on the passion in the room.

Speakers came all the way from New Jersey and New Hampshire to argue for deregulating the commercial interior design industry. Supporters say the regulations merely shut out newcomers and perpetuate a monopoly by an interior design "cartel."

Opponents say it's a public safety, health and welfare issue, and appropriate training and certification is critical to making sure designers of commercial spaces don't make such mistakes as recommending flammable paints, disease-carrying fabrics and blocked exits.

Michelle Early, an interior designer who specializes in health facilities, told the panel her expertise means she knows to avoid fabrics that contribute to the spread of hospital-acquired infections, which she said cause 88,000 deaths a year.

"By not allowing interior designers to be specialists and focus on the things they do, what you're basically doing is contributing to 88,000 deaths every year," Early said.

Supporters of deregulation say significant safety issues are addressed by building and fire safety codes.

Patti Morrow, executive director of the Interior Design Protection Council based in New Hampshire, said there's "not a shred of evidence" that regulating interior design protects the public.

She pointed out that Florida is one of only three states that regulates the profession.

"Florida is so hostile to small businesses and entrepreneurs," Morrow said. "Licensing is a burden."

Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, wanted to know if experience strategically hanging Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd posters in his college dorm room would qualify him to be an interior designer, even if he wasn't licensed by the state. The answer was yes.

Rouson then cast his vote against the bill with the losing side, saying: "I know we're trying to stimulate business, stimulate employment, stimulate jobs, but there are reasons to protect people."

Dana Young, R-Tampa, was among those pushing the bill toward passage, even though she expressed concern about loosening oversight of geologists and surveyors. Those are professionals whose expertise is critical to such things as aquifer protection, environmental mediation of new development, and determining flood zones, she said.

The measure passed by a 10-5 party-line vote.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com at (850) 224-7263.

House committee votes to cut oversight of about 30 professions 03/15/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 6:49pm]
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