Wisconsin

Lawsuit Over Wisconsin Ban on Selling Homemade Cookies

Selling homemade baked goods can lead to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

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Sell a cookie, go to jail.

As preposterous as it may sound, in Wisconsin you can go to jail and face hefty fines for selling homemade baked goods.

Wisconsin is one of only two states to ban entrepreneurs from selling cookies, muffins and breads simply because they are made in a home kitchen.

"That means that even if you sell one cookie at a farmers market, to your neighbor, somewhere in your community, you can go to jail for up to six months or even be fined up to $1,000. That's not only unfair, it's unconstitutional," attorney Erica Smith told Wisconsin Watchdog Wednesday on the Vicki McKenna Show, on NewsTalk 1310 WIBA.

Smith is with the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit law firm that "fights against unreasonable government restrictions on individuals' economic liberty," according to the Virginia organization's website.

The attorney represents three Wisconsin farmers who on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection. The complaint seeks to strike down the home-baked goods ban and allow home bakers to sell directly to their friends, neighbors and other consumers.

A bipartisan bill languishing in the Legislature would do just that, if it would ever be allowed to come up for a vote.

The legislation would allow up to $7,500 in annual homemade baked goods sales. It was first introduced more than two years ago, passing in the Senate before stalling in the Assembly.

Smith said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has refused to allow the "cookie bill" to hit the House floor.

"That could very well be because he owns his own commercial food business," the attorney said.

Vos owns Rojos Popcorn, a popcorn packaging company in Burlington.

A spokeswoman for Vos did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The commercial food industry in Wisconsin asserts lifting the ban could hurt small, licensed businesses, giving home-based entrepreneurs an unfair advantage.

"If several people in a certain market or particular community are doing that, they're eating away at a local baker that's been there for 100 years and taking away his livelihood. How is that fair?" Dave Schmidt, executive director of the Wisconsin Bakers Association told Wisconsin Public Radio.

But home bakers like Lisa Kivirist, a Green County farmer, say they are just trying to provide a little extra income for their families.

"The state's home-baked-good ban hurts farmers, homemakers and others who just want to help support their family by selling simple goods from their home oven," said Kivirist, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. "Not to mention that the ban prevents customers from buying the fresh and local foods of their choice."

Kivirist joined her fellow plaintiffs and others at a press event at the Capitol on Wednesday to talk about the homemade baked goods ban.

Current law requires the use of commercial kitchens for those in the baking business, big or small. Outfitting a commercial kitchen can run as high as $80,000, according to the lawsuit. Renting space can top $1,000 a month, and commercial kitchens are hard to come by in rural Wisconsin.

There are multiple exemptions in the current law, allowing small producers of honey, popcorn, jelly, syrup, and more to sell homemade goods. Nonprofit groups such as churches and other charities may sell homemade goods up to 12 times a year. But individuals hawking the same baked goods could go to jail.

Smith said she knows of no one who has been sentenced to jail time or fined for violating the ban, but some sellers have been told to stop.

"One of our clients was successfully selling at farmers markets and she was selling out her goods. When she found out about this law, she had no choice but to stop. She couldn't risk these fines or possibly going to jail," Smith said.

NEXT: Civil Rights and the Right to Work

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  1. Hitler?

    1. Bruno Ganz?

  2. “If several people in a certain market or particular community are doing that, they’re eating away at a local baker that’s been there for 100 years and taking away his livelihood. How is that fair?”

    Let’s turn that around. How is it fair that government regulation protects 100 year old businesses from competition, keeping the locals from enhancing their own livelihoods?

    1. Oh it’s worse than that. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (a Republican) killed the cookie bill to protect his own commercial food business from competition.

    2. exactly. How is a somebody supposed to know they have the next big cookie thing if they can’t sell it informally to their neighbors? Your average amateur baker simply isn’t going to jump through the necessary licensure hoops.

  3. Protecting monopolies is…fair?

    1. Yes, it is only fair that rent seekers get the legal protection they pay for.

      1. But, but, the strength and consistency of our community. Fuck, now those Uber asshole are creating an alternative to regulated transportation.

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  5. Just told my wife about this law and Speaker Vos. “Most corrupt thing I’ve ever heard”

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  8. Just one more reason to exterminate the progressives like the soulless vermin they are.

    1. Not that I need any more reasons for that, but the speaker of the house standing in the way of a vote is a Republican.

      1. The two are not mutually exclusive.

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  10. Good God. The spambots have really been pounding away on the blog comments these last few days. ‘Bout time Reason instituted some kinda spambot filter…

    1. captcha implementations are free. It would be pretty easy to deal with it if they were motivated.

  11. Yet another reason to

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    1. Woodchipper my butt.

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  12. I’m sure the founders intended the government to ban people from selling their own cookies.

    1. slippery slope…start with cookies end up with heroin…see how that works?

      1. My heroin is so good it sells itself, thank you.

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    1. I hope this scam, err, business, isn’t selling cookies.

  14. In my best bernie sanders voice, “why are there so many choices for cookies, we don’t need that many different types of cookies. too many choices confuse people.”

    1. Hopefully the Cookie Monster will be appointed Minister of Baked Goods and Candies when Uncle Bernie gets elected.

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  20. A good friend of mine runs a “gaming” business and he lobbied hard to make sure that the gaming could only be done inside city limits instead of county wide. The city he did business in was supposed to annex some of his property so he could expand his business, but they didn’t and the county assumed control of the unincorporated area. Now he’s trying to lobby the county to allow gaming in the entire county so he can use his property. If you can’t compete on level terms, you deserve to go out of business as far as I’m concerned. Trying to use the gov’t to promote one’s business or kill competition should call for the offender to be horsewhipped repeatedly.

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