(ANTIMEDIA) — The state of New Jersey is facing a lawsuit from bakers who are attempting to assert their right to sell goods produced in their own homes. New Jersey is the only state in the country that still bans these practices.
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Last week, the Institute of Justice, a legal advocacy organization, filed a suit on behalf of New Jersey Home Bakers Association, three women who make baked goods in their homes, to repeal the policy, which imposes a fine for selling home-baked goods. According to the institute:
“Heather Russinko, Elizabeth Cibotariu and Martha Rabello are three New Jersey bakers who want to sell their baked goods to earn a living. But before they can sell a single cookie, they need to be licensed as a ‘retail food establishment.’ This requires renting or building a commercial-grade kitchen, paying multiple fees, and abiding by hundreds of pages of regulations just to sell foods even the government has deemed ‘not potentially hazardous.’”
IJ and other news outlets have pointed out that bakers like Russinko, Cibotariu, and Rabello are allowed to sell their good at charity events but, as IJ says, “the minute they sell the exact same goods to earn a living, they are breaking the law.”
Though the New Jersey legislature’s House has already moved to repeal the ban twice, Senate Health and Human Services Chairman Sen. Joe Vitale has blocked a vote in the Senate. He claimed last year that it’s admirable these bakers want to “make some extra money and do the right thing,” but he ultimately refused to acknowledge their concerns. “It’s just there are public safety and public health concerns,” he said.
However, IJ disagrees.
“All home bakers want is to be able to sell their baked goods at community events, farmers’ markets and directly to customers, something people already do in 49 other states,” explained IJ Attorney Erica Smith. “No one has ever gotten sick from eating a cookie.”
“There is no report of anyone, anywhere, ever getting sick from improperly baked goods,” the organization said.
Further, opponents of removing the ban, like Vitale, claim doing so would create unfair competition against business owners who have paid the state the fees it requires to operate a retail food establishment.
Citing his advocacy for “mom and pop” bakers and the fact that they have to pay for “rent, insurance and employees,” Vitale said last year:
“They’re concerned at some level of being undermined by these home-baked products. If the cap is $50,000, that’s potentially $50,000 or some portion that’s out of the bottom line of a small baker.“
Republican Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman, who introduced the measure, disagreed, arguing “businesses are working on such a small level and would be restricted in what they could sell — nothing that needs to be refrigerated, for instance — that he doesn’t see them as competition,” NJ.com reported.
IJ’s lawsuit, filed on December 7, cites Article 1, paragraph 1 of New Jersey’s constitution. “This provision protects New Jerseyans’ due-process rights,” they argued in a press release.
“One of these rights is the right to pursue a chosen livelihood without arbitrary, unreasonable or oppressive governmental interference. The home-baked goods ban violates this right because there is no genuine safety reason to impose an onerous licensing scheme and require home bakers to spend tens of thousands of dollars to access a commercial kitchen before selling cookies.”
The organization highlighted the burden the state is placing on individuals who are already struggling to make ends meet.
“Our plaintiff, Heather Russinko, she is a single mom in Sussex County raising a 14-year-old son and she lives paycheck to paycheck and her specialty is cake pops,” said IJ attorney Erica Smith. “She was selling these cake pops successfully to people at her son’s school. She was making a lot of money.”
The Institute for Justice successfully repealed a similar policy in Wisconsin earlier this year, making New Jersey the sole state in the country that still imposes such a ban.