There is good news and bad news on the food freedom front.
First, the good news, from Matt Kittle:
The latest version of Wisconsin’s “Cookie Bill,” legalizing the sale of home-baked goods, passed – again – in the Senate this week.
But thanks to a southwest Wisconsin judge, a free-market law firm and some very persistent “cookie ladies,” small bakers of brownies, muffins and cookies no longer have to fear going to jail or paying big fines for selling their goods.
On Friday, Lafayette County Judge Duane Jorgenson signed an order finalizing his decision last month that declared unconstitutional the state’s ban on the sale of homemade baked items.
The judge did so after the state Department of Agriculture Trade & Consumer Protection told a home baker she would not be protected under the court ruling, according to Erica Smith, attorney for the Institute for Justice, which represented three Wisconsin women in the case against the state.
Smith said the department told the woman that the ruling only applied to the three plaintiffs.
“We did a brief with the court, and the court just today signed an order putting an end to it,” the attorney said.
“Wisconsin is a lot freer today than it was last month,” she added.
Jorgenson ruled that anyone in the state can bake and sell without an artificial cap on sales, as long as the goods are not considered potentially hazardous. Cookies, cakes, breads, muffins fit the nonhazardous column.
Wisconsin residents Lisa Kivirist told the Washington Times in 2016 that she and her family serve muffins and other baked goods to the guests of their Inn Serendipity Farm and Bed and Breakfast near Monroe, but they face fines and jail time if they sell them, under the state ban.
“It’s not clear to me why I can serve you this muffin legally, but I cannot sell you this muffin legally,” she told the publication.
Kivirist, Kriss Marion, and Dela Ends sued the state. It was their last resort.
For years, the Wisconsin women have begged legislators to change the law. They had success on two separate occasions in the Senate, but reform bills died in the Assembly. Speaker Robin Vos, owner of a popcorn business, opted not to bring the bills to the Assembly floor.
The Rochester Republican has said the legislation would have created an unequal playing field, with homemakers getting a break on the costs of regulations licensed businesses are required to pay.
Smith and other free-market advocates say the state’s restrictions on cottage baked goods is driven by special interests that want to lock competitors out.
Jorgenson agreed, ruling that there is no connection to the commercial baking complaint that lifting the ban would present public health concerns.
“I think if we (the Institute for Justice) hadn’t been suing the government for 25 years and seeing how outrageous government can be, we would have been shocked that there is such a thing as a law against selling home-baked goods,” Smith said. “This was another instance of special interests shutting out competition and that’s not what America is all about.”
Just days after the court ruling, Vos began circulating the Bakery Freedom Act in the pursuit of sponsors. The proposal does away with licensure requirements for commercial bakeries, and eliminates health safety inspections. The bill, Vos said, would “level the playing field” in the wake of Jorgensen’s decision.
The Senate bill, its third try at reforming a law now deemed unconstitutional, allows entrepreneurs to sell up to $25,000 in homemade goods per year before being subject to licensing and the accompanying requirements.
“There is good news for home bakers in Wisconsin! The cookie bill passed the state senate,” Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) declared in a press release.
“I know there are many home-based bakers who are ready to share their talents and delicious products with consumers and I am proud to have supported this bill,” the senator said.
Kit Beyer, Vos’ spokeswoman, said the speaker does not support the Senate bill. She said the Bakery Freedom Act, introduced by Vos and state Rep. Michael Schraa “levels the playing field, allowing every baker to sell their product under the same standards.”
The Institute for Justice’s Smith said passage of a “Cookie Bill” is unnecessary now that the court has decided the ban on the sale of homemade goods is unconstitutional.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice, however, is considering appealing the ruling.
I am unclear why Vos and his sycophants are not on the side of free enterprise. You know what they say about power corrupting.
Now, the bad news, from Chris Rochester:
Americans for Prosperity is warning lawmakers about a possible plot by anonymous special interests to push small breweries, wineries and artisan distilleries out of business.
AFP has a draft proposal they say came from lobbyists who want to prevent microbreweries, wineries, and distilleries from operating taverns and selling their products to wholesalers, which is currently common practice.
This would mean beefing up an onerous “three-tier restricting” law where producers, wholesalers, and retailers are all separate entities. AFP says this would involve creating a new bureaucracy, an Office of Alcohol Beverages Enforcement in the Department of Revenue to enforce the new law.
Mark Garthwaite, executive director of the Wisconsin Brewers Guild, says the three-tier system is archaic and overreaching.
“I see no need for erecting these barriers,” Garthwaite told the MacIver News Service, adding that other states use less burdensome regulatory systems that serve the public just fine. Craft brewers support reasonable regulations that protect the public, but not protectionist ones meant to benefit particular special interests, he said.
Eric Bott, AFP-Wisconsin State Director, sent a letter on Thursday to Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. John Nygren, co-chairs of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, detailing what he’s learned about the effort. AFP got its information from small businesses that would be affected and from sources in the Capitol.
Larger, well-established alcohol producers would have a much easier time complying with the strict three-tier system than smaller producers like microbreweries, small wineries, and boutique distilleries that have become increasingly popular. That increasing popularity also poses a competitive threat to larger alcohol producers.
According to Garthwaite, Wisconsin has 131 active craft brewers that produced 500,000 barrels of beer in Wisconsin in 2016, 10 percent of the overall beer market. In 2011, Wisconsin had 73 craft breweries, according to the Brewers Association.
Garthwaite also said craft breweries have a significant economic impact, both statewide and locally. “Customers like to go to the places where their beer is made.” The proposed regulations “fail the consumer” in favor of entrenched interests, he said.
The economic impact of craft breweries in Wisconsin exceeded $1.7 billion in 2014, according to the Brewers Association.
The regulations would certainly have a negative impact on the craft brewing industry, and would essentially halt the formation of new microbreweries or brewpubs – an increasingly popular phenomenon – by forbidding businesses that produce alcoholic beverages from also operating bars and restaurants. “It would kill off a lot of startups,” Garthwaite said.
AFP believes the draft proposal could be slipped into the budget’s “999” motion. That’s historically the final action JFC takes on the budget, and it’s where many policy items can be attached to the budget anonymously and at the last minute, often before even lawmakers have time to review them.
“When government takes the next step of attacking individual small business owners in secret to help the politically connected it rises to a new level of repugnancy. It’s no wonder the proponents of this motion conduct their work in the shadows,” Bott wrote to Darling and Nygren in the letter.
The Capital Times reported the proposal was supported by the Tavern League of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Beer Distributors Association and the Wisconsin Wine and Spirits Institute. All three support the anti-competition status quo. None of the three deserve your business if this bill becomes law.