County rejects ‘cupcake law’

September 12, 2018

By a razor-thin margin, the Kankakee County Board on Tuesday rejected a proposed “cupcake law,” which would have allowed home-based bakeries.

This decision followed a recommendation from the county’s top health official and representatives of two full-fledged bakeries.

The issue prompted a larger debate regarding the reach of government regulation.

Just eight out of Illinois’ 102 counties have approved cupcake laws, according to the county health department. Under state law, counties can allow home bakeries as long as they make no more than $1,000 per month. They can be free of inspections and education requirements.

John Bevis, the county’s health administrator, urged the board to reject a cupcake law. He said he could think of a couple instances in which businesses had tables where people left bakery items that might have caused foodborne outbreaks, one affecting as many as 140 people.

Wanda Warman, owner of Nana’s Cakery in Bradley, said it would be unfair to allow home-based bakeries when standalone bakeries were subject to regulations and annual inspections.

Some months, she said, Nana’s Cakery doesn’t generate even $1,000. She said she is for competition, but only if there is a level playing field.

Chris Shimkus, co-owner of Sweet Street in Bourbonnais, said health regulations protect the public.

“These people will be working with food in their homes. We have an issue with this,” she said. “Are there pets in their homes? Are there sick children in their homes?”

Bradley resident Brooke Love, who has been pushing the county to pass the law, contended it would allow people similar to her to get started in the bakery business and then, eventually, open their own shops.

Love, who has experience as a pastry chef, said the county should let consumers decide who to buy their cakes from.

“I grew up having cakes from the lady down the street,” Love said. “Unfortunately, we can’t do that now.”

During the board debate, member Michael LaGesse, D-Bradley, who voted for the cupcake law in committee, said he changed his mind.

“There is no way to capture any taxes. It’ll be mostly cash. Even if it isn’t, who is going to check them?” LaGesse said.

His colleague, Robert Ellington-Snipes, D-Kankakee, said he would stick with his committee vote in favor.

“This is America, the land of opportunity, and I won’t stop that opportunity,” he said.

Todd Sirois, R-St. Anne, said the ban on home-based businesses goes “a little bit overboard.” He knows of a woman who quit making cakes to sell because she feared she was breaking the law.

Member George Washington, D-Kankakee, said he remembered having a friend make a wedding cake in her own home when he got married. He took it on his honeymoon.

“We had cake for everybody, and no one suffered for it. I don’t see why we have to over-regulate everything,” Washington said.

Member Mike Mulcahy, R-Kankakee, said a cupcake law had the potential to hurt people.

“That’s why I’m going with the health department,” he said.

The board voted 12-11 against the cupcake law. If the law passed, it would have allowed home-based bakeries in the county’s unincorporated areas and given municipalities the opportunity to pass their own regulations, county officials said.

The majority of board Republicans voted against the regulation-reducing cupcake law, seemingly contradicting the GOP’s reputation as the small government party.

Afterward, Love said she would have to get the money to start her own business. But she also said Bradley, where she lives, might be able to pass a cupcake law in the absence of one from the county.

“More research is involved,” she said.

By the votes

The county board voted 12-11 against cupcake law:

Yes: George Washington, D; Patricia Polk, D; Robert Ellington-Snipes, D; Jim Byrne, R; Todd Sirois, R; Michael Hildebrand, R; Stephen Einfeldt, R; Janis Peters, R; Sally Evans, R; Ray Fairfield, R; Andy Wheeler, R

No: Jim Tripp, R; Michael LaGesse, D; Jim Stauffenberg, R; Jim Vickery, R; Bill Olthoff, R; Roger Hess, R; Mike Mulcahy, R; Carol Webber, R; Tinker Parker, R; Elisabeth Dunbar, D; Ron Kinzinger, R; Michael Zenz, R

Absent: Chris Tholen, R; Stephen Liehr, R; Shane Ritter, R; Samuel Payton, D

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