Consumers Might Learn the Identity of the “Absentee Florist”
While California isn’t close to closing its $17.9 billion budget gap between revenues and spending commitments, it is a step closer to outlawing “absentee florists.”
For the second legislative session in a row, Assemblywoman Mary Salas is carrying a bill that would prevent a “vendor of floral or ornamental products or services” – as defined – from misrepresenting the location of their business.
The problem Salas’ bill aims to solve is that consumers can call a florist with their city or neighborhood in its name that is actually a call center “located thousands and thousands of miles away,” as the Chula Vista Democrat recently told the 80-member Assembly which sent her bill, AB 2076, to the Senate on a bipartisan 71 to 5 vote.
“A consumer has a right to know if they’re doing business with a local company,” Salas said in defense of her measure, noting that many Californians prefer to support local or state businesses over out-of-state ones.
According to Salas and her bill’s sponsor, the California State Floral Association, consumers are “duped” by out-of-state call centers into thinking they are purchasing flowers at a local florist.
Salas and the association argue that California customers who unwittingly do business with an out-of-state call center get less for their money and deprive the state of sales tax revenue.
The example the association uses is a buyer orders a $50 floral arrangement. The call center rakes off $21 and $29 goes to the local florist who actually delivers the flowers. Sales tax is levied only on the in-state florist’s end of the transaction, a 42 percent reduction in sales tax.
Under Salas’ bill, a florist could not use a local telephone number in an advertisement if calls to it are routinely transferred to another location and the advertisement doesn’t show the actual physical location of the business.
Nor could a florist use a fictitious business name is it misrepresents the business’ real location and doesn’t show the physical address of the business.
“Floral or ornamental products or services” are defined as “floral arrangements, cut flowers, floral bouquets, potted plants, balloons, floral designs, and related
products and services.”
Combating “absentee florists” has been a more than a decade long battle. In 1998, the Federal Trade Commission issued a “Consumer Alert” called Petal Pushers: Is Your ‘Local’ Florist Really Long-Distance? which said, among other things:
“Some unscrupulous telemarketing firms are posing as local florists, charging you higher fees and taking business away from legitimate florists in your town.”
Legislation like Salas’ has been introduced in Sacramento since 1999 when Assemblyman George House, a Hughson Republican, carried the first such measure. Assemblyman George Nakano, a Long Beach Democrat, took up the fight in 2001. Salas herself introduced a similar measure in 2007.
In vetoing House’s bill, then Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, said:
“While this bill might help to eliminate consumer confusion, it ignores the realities of a global economy where companies located all over the world compete globally for customers.”
Davis waxed more poetic in vetoing Nakano’s measure, asking:
“Even if it were appropriate to restrict floral businesses in such a fashion, how would a local business name be defined? How many miles away from the Pacific coast would a business have to be located before it could not use the word “Pacific” in its name?
The measure would be “problematic to define and enforce,” Davis concluded, adding that it would “create a slippery slope of unnecessary restrictions on all kinds of businesses.”
In vetoing Salas’ previous measure, GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said, much like Davis before him, that in the global economy “it is unreasonable to limit out-of-area businesses from using local names and telephone numbers. In virtually every aspect of the economy, consumers are accustomed to purchasing products from around the world via many methods.”
It appears nothing has changed in the content of Salas’ measure to change the governor’s mind.
Filed under: Legislature/Legislation
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