Valentine’s Day may be a national holiday of love for bakers, as we get out our heart-shaped cookie cutters and the air wafts sweetly. But our Assembly keeps handing us home bakers crumbs when it comes to supporting small scale food entrepreneurs. This Wednesday, on Valentine’s Day, the Assembly Small Business Development Committee will be reviewing Assembly Bill 360, affectionately known as the “Cookie Bill,” which has the potential for Wisconsin to catch up with just about all other states in our nation to enable folks to sell their homemade baked goods.
Unfortunately, as it currently stands, Assembly Bill 360 institutes an annual gross sales cap of $10,000, one of the lowest in the country. The missing ingredient here: a gross sales cap of $25,000, which mirrors Senate Bill 271 which passed the Senate unanimously in June 2017. Led by then-Senator Shelia Hardsdorf, now our state’s Secretary of Agriculture, this Senate Bill provides realistic opportunity for fledgling entrepreneurs in our state to get their dream bakery business going.
A cap of $10,000 equals $192 a week. When you subtract out ingredient cost, supplies and other standard expenses with running a business, we’re talking just dollars of income a day. Our neighboring state of Illinois has a gross sales cap of $36,000, and Iowa doesn’t even have a gross sales cap. Minnesota is at $18,000. What’s more troubling than the actual gross sales number is this chronic attitude amongst our elected officials on conniving ways to impede new business start-ups through such entrepreneurial barriers. That is why we need a groundswell of aspiring small business owners at this public meeting.
This fight for the sale of homemade baked goods in Wisconsin has been going on too long. With the Wisconsin Farmers Union, we first helped introduce Cookie Bill legislation back in 2013. While variations on this bill have passed the Senate multiple times, up until now, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has failed to bring the Bill to the Assembly floor for a vote. This Committee Meeting may change that, but we’ve been in this fight long enough to not accept those crumbs.
Remember: the Judicial branch ruled in home bakers’ favor on this. When the Legislative branch bogged down, myself and my farmer friends, Kriss Marion and Dela Ends, took things over to the courts. We successfully sued the state over the fact that Wisconsin’s ban on the sale of home baked goods is unconstitutional and reflects the illegal influence of big industry groups who are apparently threatened by mom and pop competition. Our Wisconsin Constitution protects the right to earn an honest living, and we are pleased the court agreed. The proposed $10,000 is an arbitrary limit, and there’s no evidence that such a cap is linked to public health or safety as we are only talking about non-hazardous baked goods. There is precedence that some of Wisconsin’s small home baking businesses will grow into pretty sizable enterprises that boost our state’s economy. A sales cap this low would hamper the entrepreneurial potential of these producers and should be avoided.
Hey Wisconsin Assembly Small Business Development Committee: Send some “Wisconsin is open for business” Valentine’s Day love to your constituents. Model the Senate and set a gross sales cap of $25,000 for home bakers.
Lisa Kivirist is author of Homemade for Sale and Soil Sisters and runs Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B in Browntown, Wisconsin with her family.