Yet Another Legislative Attempt to Increase Disclosure in Florist Advertising

For the fifth time in 13 years, California lawmakers are trying to outlaw “absentee florists.”

The almost perennial measure – this year’s version carried by Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski — would prevent a florist from misrepresenting the location of their business.

The problem the Fremont Democrat bill aims to solve is that consumers can call a florist using their city or neighborhood in its name, which is actually a call center, located hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Under Wieckowski’s bill, AB 1581, florists using a local phone number or a local name must include their address – both in print, electronic and Internet advertising.

“This bill will provide consumers information about the location of these floral businesses so they can choose to spend their money locally and benefit their own community,” Wieckowski said in a February 2 press release touting the measure.

Like past bills with the same goal, Wieckowski’s effort is supported by the California State Floral Association.

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski

Twenty-eight other states have similar truth-in-floral-advertising laws including Arizona, Washington and New Jersey. Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed legislation last year to require such location disclosure.

A wesbsite created by local florists, Florist Detective, offers tips on how to avoid inadvertently buying from floral telemarketing such as checking the address and googling the listed phone number.

Wieckowski and the floral association say 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.

In arguing for a previous measure in 2010, the floral association used this example:

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.

Wieckowski’s bill also says florists cannot use the words “local” or “locally owned” or being located in California unless actually located in California.

Nor could a florist use a fictitious business name “that would lead a reasonable consumer to conclude that the floral business is physically located in this state.”

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?

Among other things, the “alert” said:

“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 Wieckowski’s has been introduced in Sacramento since 1999 when Assemblyman George House, a Hughson Republican, carried the first such measure.

“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,” wrote then Gov. Gray Davis in his veto message.

Assemblyman George Nakano, a Long Beach Democrat, took up the fight in 2001.

Waxing more poetic in his second veto message Davis wrote:

“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?  This legislation would be problematic to define and enforce. Additionally, I fear that this bill would create a slippery slope of unnecessary restrictions on all kinds of businesses.”

Assemblywoman Mary Salas, a Chula Vista Democrat, tried twice, in 2007 and 2010.

Like House’s and Nakano’s measures, both bills by Salas passed on lop-sided bipartisan votes only to be vetoed by GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Channeling his inner Gray Davis, Schwarzenegger said in vetoing Salas’ 2010 bill 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.”

Weickowski said the idea for the bill came from Dirk Lorenz, the owner of Fremont Flowers.

Gov. Jerry Brown doesn’t take positions on measures until they reach his desk. Weickowski’s bill has yet to heard by any committee.



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