N.Y. Food Police Shut Down a 7-Year-Old's Lemonade Stand. This Bill Makes Sure They Can't Do It Again.

"Kids like Brendan Mulvaney are trying to give people sweet lemonade and learn some important business skills but the overzealous state bureaucrats just keep giving taxpayers lemons."


Last summer, a 7-year-old boy in upstate New York made headlines after health officials shut down the lemonade stand he was running from his family's porch. In response, a state senator introduced legislation exempting lemonade stands run by children from onerous state regulations. And on Tuesday, the bill was approved by the New York Senate's Health Committee and referred to the Finance Committee.

Reason's Scott Shackford had the details of the story at the time. Young Brendan Mulvaney set up shop at his home, which just happened to be in close proximity to a state fair. He probably wouldn't have gotten in trouble if not for some fair vendors, who were selling lemonade for $7 a cup. One cup of Mulvaney's lemonade, on the other hand, cost a far more reasonable 75 cents. (Mulvaney also sold snow cones and cold water.)

No doubt scared that Mulvaney's capitalistic tendencies would cut into their profits, the vendors complained to the Health Department, who showed up and shut down Mulvaney's operation. Under New York's health regulations, you see, temporary food establishments need to secure a $30 permit from health officials before they can start operations.

The situation attracted outrage after Mulvaney's dad, Sean, posted about it on Facebook. "There's more important things in life than shutting down a kid's lemonade stand," Sean told WRGB around that time. Eventually, the Health Department said it would allow Brendan to start back up again without obtaining a permit as long as he limited his wares to lemonade.

In response to the outrage, state Sen. Jim Tedisco (R–49) introduced legislation exempting child-operated lemonade stands from state health regulations. "A lemonade stand operated by a person under the age of 16 years shall not be considered to be a temporary food establishment," reads the most recent version of the bill, which was filed in January.

"There's nothing that says America more than apple pie and kids running lemonade stands. 'Brendan's Lemon-Aid Law for Children' will keep child-run lemonade stands open for business in New York State without this regulation hanging over them," said Tedisco in a statement. "It's a sad commentary on the current state of New York State's government that this legislation is needed to protect the entrepreneurial dreams of children selling lemonade. Kids like Brendan Mulvaney are trying to give people sweet lemonade and learn some important business skills but the overzealous state bureaucrats just keep giving taxpayers lemons."

The legislation currently has four additional Republican co-sponsors. It also has the support of at least one Democrat in the Assembly: Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre (11), according to Tedisco's press release.

Lawmakers on the Senate Health Committee unanimously approved the legislation Tuesday, the Albany Times Union reported. "My 8-year-old is in the middle of selling Girl Scout cookies," said Sen. Brad Hoylman (D–27), who's on the committee. "Should I be concerned about a crackdown from the Department of Health for distributing Girl Scout cookies?"

Unsurprisingly, the Health Department does not support the legislation, with agency spokesperson Jill Montag suggesting to the Times Union that it's unnecessary. "The Department of Health will continue to use its discretion to not enforce regulations on children's lemonade stands that are limited to lemonade or a similar beverage," she said. Of course, as Tedisco's press release noted, if health officials are going to ignore this regulation for children's lemonade stands anyway, then the legislature may as well just get rid of it.

Tedisco's bill is similar to a law passed in Texas in March, which Reason's Billy Binion wrote about. Texas state law currently prohibits the sale of homemade drinks (at least unregulated ones), though the law in question would eliminate permit requirement for minors who want to sell lemonade. Earlier that month, a similar bill passed the Colorado legislature and was eventually signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat.

These sorts of laws undoubtedly represent positive developments. Children should be allowed to sell lemonade if they want, but unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of local officials cracking down on their entrepreneurial spirits.

But as Shackford noted last year, these cases also highlight the effect onerous occupational licensing regulations can have on adult-run businesses, though those sorts of stories attract significantly less outrage. In New York, for instance, becoming a barber requires a whopping 884 days of training, according to the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm.

Of course, we should be outraged when state officials shut down children's lemonade stands. But we should be upset that onerous licensing regulations can have detrimental effects on adults' careers as well.