You Need A License For That?

An interview about licensing reform with Shoshanna Weissmann
By: Austin C. Yenne


I first discovered Shoshana Weissmann on Twitter when someone I follow retweeted one of her many funny political memes. I decided to follow her because who doesn’t enjoy a good laugh? Not long after, I saw her talking about licensing reform and the research she was conducting on it. While I may have different political beliefs than her, I found what she was discussing very interesting. I reached out to Shoshana to see if she could take time out of her busy schedule and do an interview about her work on licensing reform. She was nice enough to answer my questions. Below is the transcript of our interview.

Austin: What got you interested in licensing reform?

Shoshana: The legal theory behind it, but also especially Sandy Meadows' case. I cite her lawyer here.[1] It was devastating and wrong.

“Sandy Meadows was a widow who lived by herself in Baton Rouge and loved working with flowers. She had little education and nothing in the bank when her husband died. She’d never had to support herself before, and her only vocational skill was making floral arrangements. Unfortunately, Louisiana is the one state in the country that licenses florists, just like doctors or lawyers.
Sandy tried five times to pass the licensing exam, but it was too subjective. Besides taking a written test, applicants had to make four floral arrangements in four hours. A panel of working florists would grade the arrangements and decide whether the applicant was good enough to set up shop and compete with them. Usually they said no.
When agents of the Louisiana Horticulture Commission found out that Sandy was managing the floral department of an Albertsons grocery store without a license, they threatened to shut it down. The store had no choice but to let her go and hire a state-licensed florist instead. Prevented by government from doing the only work she knew, Sandy had no way to make a living. She had no car, no phone, and, on the last day I saw her alive, no electricity because she couldn’t afford to pay her utility bill. In October 2004, Sandy Meadows died alone and in poverty because the State of Louisiana wouldn’t allow her to work in a perfectly harmless occupation — and I couldn’t persuade a federal judge to protect her right to do so.
This is outrageous, unjust, and unconstitutional.”

Austin: Reading up on the Sandy Meadows case is certainly depressing and heartbreaking. My question on that is, is there a workaround getting that license? Do you have to be licensed only for selling in a store or to sell period?

Shoshana: Yep. It's terrible. And Louisiana is the only state that licenses it, there’s no epidemic of people being harmed by unlicensed florists!


Austin: What licenses do you think aren't needed?

Shoshana: Those that don't actually protect health and safety. We should license doctors and nurses. But florists? Hair cutters? Blow dryers? Interior designers? And for some that are in the middle, there are better ways - health certificates, smaller training, etc.


Austin: What are some of the craziest things that you've come across that have required licenses?

Shoshana: Big ones: Florists, fortune tellers, interior designers, and barbers are at the top.


Austin: Now I personally don't know much about hair work because well I keep my hair shaved down to avoid maintaining it. So my question actually involves somebody blow drying hair. What if they accidentally burnt somebody's scalp from the blow dryer? Who should be held liable? The shop that they're employed with or the person themselves? Should they carry a type of insurance for that?

Shoshana: This isn't something that happens a lot. It happens pretty rarely, and a combination of insurance, courts, and yelp reviews tend to solve it. Also a license isn't going to make this any better!


Austin: If I am understanding this correctly, obtaining a license for cutting hair in Colorado doesn't work in Florida and you have to go through the whole process again?

Shoshana: Yes! The solution isn't to nationalize it - that can make things worse. But ending unnecessary licenses, and getting states to work together to make necessary licenses portable.


Austin: You mentioned not nationalizing licenses. What do you mean by that? You also mentioned making necessary licenses portable-- what would fall under that category?

Shoshana: …I mean that I think the federal government rather than states providing licenses would be a bad idea. It makes reforming bad licenses harder and causes other problems. It would be great to make doctors, nurses, lawyers, etc., licenses more portable across state lines.


Austin: So what would be the difference between the states supplying the license and making it portable vs the government provides a universal license?

Shoshana: In the first, states work together to make licenses portable, and do what works for each state. In the second, the federal government mandates everything.


Austin: With licenses being suspended while falling behind on student debt what is your solution to that issue?[2]

Shoshana: Just stop doing that ha ha. That has to be the least productive way to accomplish goals. Student loans and licensing are each problems, this creates a 3rd issue.


Austin: I want to follow up on this and play devil's advocate for a moment here. What's to stop somebody from taking out loans to get a license and just stop paying on the loans if the consequence is just bad credit?

Shoshana: There are better tools - wage garnishment, working with them, etc. Stopping them from working helps nobody.


Austin: Do you think a tattoo artist should be licensed? It seems to be in a grey area because of the work they're doing involves health.

Shoshana: I haven't looked into it enough. I'd need to see the specific reasons for and against it. It's possible that they just need safety training.


Austin: What is the next project you're working on?

Shoshana: We think loans/licensing will be a big push for us!


So I decided I wanted to have a little fun toward the end of the interview and ask some more tongue in cheek lined questions.


Austin: Anybody who follows you on social media can't miss your undying love of Sloths. Where did that come from?

Shoshana: When you're online as much as I am, you see a lot of sloth memes and have to decide whether you love them or hate them. I couldn't say no to those soulful eyes.



Austin: If I understood correctly, if R Street's Twitter account got a certain amount of followers, they'd send you to an island full of sloths. Is that still happening? If so how many more followers do they need?

Shoshana: Yes! I need about 5,000 more. It's an intentionally slow growth - I want us to get the right followers, not just any followers.


Austin: Not too long ago there was the odd tide pod challenge going on. New York lawmakers were proposing a law to put more warning labels on them to remind people of their danger. You co-authored an article about how ridiculous that was. So my question is how much does Tide pay you to lobby against that?[3]

Shoshana: They just took me out for dinner: Tide pod sushi and sauvignon tide.


Austin: Your Twitter handle indicates that you're a senator. It seems pretty regularly people tag you in a post to vote against a certain piece of legislation. Your usual response is to give you 10k for your vote. So what state are you a senator for and what do you do with that 10k that I am sure you receive all the time for your vote? Also how come I can't find you listed in the senate? Are you a secret senator? Are you able to confirm that?

Shoshana: The great state of Ronkonkoma. I spend it on food mostly. Tide pods. Sloth memorabilia. I'm listed in A Senate. Maybe not THE Senate.

Once again thanks to Shoshana for taking the time to talk about her work on licensing reform. You can follow her on twitter here. and her work for R Street here.