They say what? Licensure (of landscape architects) protects your community!

Protection of the public from harm is the pretense of the argument made by most occupation groups that seek to install or expand their special legal privileges under restrictive occupational regulations. “Licensure protects your community” is specifically the claim of the licensed landscape architects who are represented by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

Is this “claim” a part of ASLA’s marketing efforts to the consuming public? No, it’s a part of their marketing effort to convince state legislators that the only way to protect communities is to license landscape architects and prevent, via the force of licensing laws, non-licensed practitioners from performing the scope of landscape work reserved to the defined practice of landscape architecture.

Are we to believe that general laws, codes and ordinances combined with plan review and inspection by our communities are ineffective processes for the protection of our landscapes? Should we believe that without licensure of landscape architects our communities and its citizens are rendered unsafe? No, we should not.

However; we should believe that licensure is definitely a protection measure – but not for the public. Licensure is protection for licensed practitioners – protection from competition. The more restrictive the licensure regulations the better it protects the licensed practitioners from competition which results in increased prices and reduced consumer choices.

When licensing advantages are given to occupation groups, choice & additional cost are extracted from the consumer. Licensing aids licensed holders and harms unlicensed workers, but it has not been demonstrated to protect the public from harm.

This all explains why landscape architects are back at the government trough attempting to increase their defined scope of service and thereby further limit the scope of service by non-licensed persons.

A little history lesson on landscape architecture occupational regulations in Missouri:

Before 1989 no state wide occupational regulations for landscape architecture existed in Missouri. In that year a law was adopted that provided for the voluntary “registration” of landscape architects, but allowed the practice of any activity or function of landscape architecture to be performed by non-registered persons so long as they did not use the title registered landscape architect.

In 2001 an amending law was passed that expanded the definition of landscape architectural practice and changed the occupational regulation designation from “registered” to “licensed,” the most restrictive form of occupational regulation. This legislation provided an exemption for non-licensed practitioners that limit their scope of work to, ‘preparing planting plans and items incidental thereto’.

In all this history, have the proponents for restrictive occupational regulations for this occupation group ever presented any history of harm caused to our communities by unlicensed practitioners, that they profess, by their insistence for licensure, from which we need to be protected? Of course they haven’t.

No scholarly study, no material evidence, not even any anecdotal evidence has been produced that reveals harm caused by unlicensed landscape professionals. Nor has any evidence ever been presented that reveals that existing general laws, codes and ordinances and the force of the free market do not serve their intended purpose.  As a matter of fact a historical review of the committee hearings on the 2001 law, reveals that the provision that increased the scope of practice and instituted licensure with limited exemptions for non-licensed practitioners was not included in the house bill as filed, but was added in a House Committee Substitute, following the public hearing.  A little trick often employed to bypass public exposure for new licensure requirements.

Neither was any public testimony heard from any non-licensed person in the Senate committee. I imagine that on that spring day most landscaping professionals were working and didn’t just drop by our state Capitol to learn that the Senate would be taking up a measure that could drastically impact their occupation.

The only person that provided testimony in the Senate hearing represented the Missouri Association of Landscape Architects. No record exists as to the content of that testimony; however, does anyone believe that this witness offered any point to demonstrate that licensure would restrict competition and increase cost to consumers?

This year’s proposed legislation (House Bill 1771 and Senate Bill 809), promoted by the licensed landscape architects, seeks further expansions of definitions of work that presumably, under the law, are reserved to licensed landscape architects. This will additionally restrict the scope of work that may legally be performed by non-licensed persons. Do you see a trend here? Increased restrictions – reduced competition.

Both the definition in the existing statute and more particularly the currently proposed definition of the practice of professional landscape architecture are so broad as to include many tasks and functions of occupations related to landscaping that it could prevent, if pressed by the board, many non-licensed landscape designers, gardeners, nurserymen, landscape contractors and others from legally pursuing their chosen occupations.

Here are two examples of definitions that are in the proposed legislation:

1. The expanded definition of Professional Landscape Architect in 327.600 (2), prohibits, pursuant to 327.629, unlicensed persons from

“….consultation, research, planning, analysis, expert technical testimony, planning, design or responsible supervision in connection with the development of land, the preservation, enhancement, or determination of land uses….” THIS IS SO BROAD THAT IT MAY PRECLUDE THE PLANTING OF A SINGLE TREE OR THE SKETCH OF A SINGLE PLANTING BED BY UNLICENSED PERSONS.

2. The expanded definition of Professional Landscape Architect limits to licensed persons the ability to prepare “Design Surveys”, which are defined, as proposed under 327.011(8) as, “a survey which includes all activities required to gather information to support the sound conception, planning, design, construction, maintenance and operation of design projects, ….”


It is not known whether any legal action has ever been initiated by the licensure board for landscape architects to prevent non-licensed landscape designers, gardeners, nurserymen or landscape contractors from performing tasks other than “preparing planting plans’; however, the statute appears to give the board the authority to do so. Chapter 327.629 reads, in part: “No person shall practice as a professional landscape architect in Missouri as defined in section 327.600 unless and until the board has issued to him or her a license….”

Certainly many non-licensed practitioners, in other occupations, have been subjected to court action to prevent their pursuit of employment on equally tenuous argument or circumstance.

This pending occupational regulation should be modified to revert to the title protection provision that existed prior to 2001 with restrictions, if any, for non-licensed practitioners to only those defined practices that place the General Welfare of the public at risk, and for which only a Professional Landscape Architect is qualified to perform without such risk to the General Welfare.

I suggest there isn’t one practice listed among the services defined under “Professional Landscape Architecture”, in the pending legislation that inherently places our communities or our citizens at risk. As a matter of fact I am guilty of performing most of them myself.Bruce-thumbnail

Bruce Hillis

Living happily and safely in my landscaped environment in Mexico, Missouri

March 16, 2014


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