“Absentee Florist” Bill Advances
An almost perennial effort to prevent florists from misrepresenting the location of their business was approved by the Assembly on May 3.
Sent to the Senate on a bipartisan 60-11 vote by the 80-member lower house, the bill is the fifth such measure in 13 years to prevent call centers, potentially located hundreds or thousands of miles away, from using a local city or neighborhood in their name and duping consumers into believing they are patronizing a “local” florist.
This year’s bill is being carried by Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, a Fremont Democrat.
“If they have a choice, many people want to support their local small businesses by purchasing from their hometown stores,” Wieckowski said in a statement after the Assembly vote.
“This bill makes sure that consumers will have access to the real geographic locations of floral shops and they won’t be fooled by a local phone number or local name. It would be included in the advertising.”
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.
Like past bills with the same goal, Wieckowski’s effort is supported by the California State Floral Association.
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 telemarketers 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:
Legislation like Wieckowski’s has been introduced in Sacramento since 1999 when Assemblyman George House, a Hughson Republican, carried the first such measure.
That and subsequent efforts have met with legislative approval but were vetoed by both Democratic and Republican governors.
“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.
Both bills by Salas were 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.”
Gov. Jerry Brown doesn’t take positions on measures until they reach his desk.
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