- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The state Senate moved closer Wednesday to passing a bill that would allow the sale of home-baked cakes, muffins and doughnuts, passing the measure through committee after supporters insisted it would jump-start small businesses.

Wisconsin and New Jersey are the only states that ban the sale of home-baked cookies, muffins and other items to the public.

Wisconsin’s prohibition comes in the form of state requirements that bakers obtain a license, which means renting or building a commercial kitchen, submitting to inspections and paying numerous fees. Home bakers say those hurdles are too high to meet. A LaFayette County judge struck down the statutes last week, saying the law makes it impossible for home bakers to legally sell their wares.

The Senate bill, authored by River Falls Republican Sheila Harsdorf, would allow people to sell without a license if they do it face-to-face, register with state consumer protection officials and generate less than $25,000 in annual revenue. Their products also would have to have low moisture amounts that don’t support dangerous organisms.

The Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards, the Wisconsin Grocers Association, the Wisconsin Public Health Association and the Wisconsin Restaurant Association oppose the measure. But Harsdorf told the Senate’s public benefits and licensing committee that the bill would open the door for entrepreneurs.

Rebecca Otte-Ford, a 36-year-old massage therapist and exercise trainer from Madison, told the committee that she’s allergic to gluten and dairy products and would love to bake gluten-free, dairy-free cakes for people but she doesn’t want to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a commercial kitchen.

The bill originally called for limiting revenue to $7,500 a year, but the committee upped it $25,000 after Otte-Ford and Nick Levendofsky, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Farmers Union, complained that ingredients are expensive and a lower revenue cap would discourage people from testing the market.

The panel approved the measure unanimously with almost no discussion. The vote clears the way for a vote in the full Senate. Harsdorf said she hopes that could happen next week.

The Senate passed a nearly identical bill last session but it died in the Assembly. Last week Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, the most powerful member of that chamber, began circulating his own bill that would de-regulate the entire baking industry. Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer said Wednesday that the speaker wants a level playing field for everyone.

The competing bills come as Senate and Assembly Republicans are locked in a bitter intraparty squabble over how to fund roads and public schools in the state budget. Harsdorf sits on the Legislature’s finance committee, which is smack in the middle of the budget battle as it revises the spending plan. She called Vos’ baked goods bill “interesting” but believes the industry must be regulated.

Asked if Republicans were going to start fighting over doughnuts next, she replied “no comment.”

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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