When life gives you lemonade, don’t plan on selling it at a lemonade stand. The lemonade stand, that nostalgic image of young entrepreneurship, is actually illegal in 35 states, including Wisconsin, without permit and/or license.
Though you might roll your eyes, governments tend to cite food and drug safety laws for the bans. Current Wisconsin law requires any food retailers to obtain a food processing plant license. The license needed is meant to be purchased by food retailers who operate mobile or temporary restaurants and costs as much as $150.
Believe it or not, these laws do get enforced. Abigail Krutsinger, a young girl who wanted to sell 25-cent lemonade in her hometown of Coralville, Iowa, was shut down for selling without a permit. Connor Boyack, in his book, “Lessons from a Lemonade Stand: An Unconventional Guide to Government”, tells the story of how this girl’s little sidewalk lemonade stand resulted in a visit from the police. Similarly, Brendan Mulvaney, a 7-year-old New York boy, was shut down by the state health officials for selling lemonade without a permit.
It has even gotten to the point where lemonade producer Country Time, seeing the easy public relations win, launched Legal-Ade to pay the fines and permit fees up to $300 for anyone 14 or younger who gets hassled by the government. Parents just have to upload a picture of the fine or the permit requirement to Country Time, and they get a reimbursement.
In Wisconsin, a sensible solution is possible. State Sen. Dale Kooyenga and Rep. Cody Horlacher sponsored bipartisan bills (SB 170 and AB 186) this year to resolve this issue for Wisconsin’s budding entrepreneurs. The legislation would allow minors to operate lemonade stands without a permit or license on a temporary basis as long as they earn less than $2,000. So far, the Assembly and Senate have added amendments to exclude hazardous foods and have each held a hearing.
Though it may be easy to argue this type of bill isn’t a priority when larger challenges loom, that would be shortsighted. When policymakers look to preserve a sensible space for civil society and youth entrepreneurship, their efforts should be applauded and highlighted. Recall the success of a similar bill from 2017 to allow home bakers to sell goods without a license as long as earnings are less than $7,500 per year. Most citizens agree that not everything in life needs government red tape or bureaucratic approval.
Moreover, we ought to consider what we lose when lemonade stands or bake sales become too risky because a police cruiser or a busybody bureaucrat might issue a fine. In 2005, a group of children donated their lemonade stand earnings for hurricane relief after Katrina devastated New Orleans. Do we really want the state to dissuade this activity in the name of public health and safety?
And as a child, my friends and I attempted to engage in this criminal enterprise when we tried to sell lemonade for $3 a cup. Of course, our neighborhood friends sold theirs for a fraction of the price. You can already guess how successful we were compared to our competition. But that lesson didn’t harm anyone. Nobody was at risk.
Citizens in our state have a fundamental right to earn a living. The government can only abridge that right when it has a compelling interest to do so. But this freedom is one in need of recovery. The government has abused its power in the name of health, public safety, and the public interest. The result is a growing number of Americans who face barriers to entry and high hurdles just to practice a profession or start a business.
Making bake sales and lemonade stands legal is a great first step. But enshrining the right to earn a living for workers, professionals and entrepreneurs ought to be the goal.
Jessica Holmberg is a policy and communications associate for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.
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