New Jersey seems to never miss an opportunity to send a message that it is an overly regulated state unfriendly to business.
The latest is state legislators making home bakers sue the state to be allowed to sell limited amounts of their breads, cakes, cookies and such. Democrats in the state Senate have blocked voting on a bill ending the ban, which likely would pass.
In this and in too many other cases, New Jersey lawmakers are the last in the nation to adopt an obviously better practice.
Wisconsin left the Garden State alone and looking foolish in the spring when a judge ruled its ban on home-baking sales had “no real or substantial connection” to consumer protection.
He added that no one in the 48 states then allowing sales has suffered serious injury or illness from an improperly made baked good.
The New Jersey Assembly already has voted twice to remove the ban.
The current bill would allow entrepreneurs to sell baked goods not requiring refrigeration, as long as they got a food handler’s certificate and made clear the products were baked at home and not at a regulated bakery.
Most New Jersey residents probably think the sale of home-baked goods is already legal, having bought some brownies or muffins at a church sale or other nonprofit fundraiser. That’s because the state allows such sales for charitable purposes, putting the lie to the claim that they would be unsafe.
Yet state Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, continues to say this year that the sale of home-baked goods is a threat to “public safety and public health.”
That’s just a cynical cover for his real motivation — the usual regulatory racket of protecting an industry from competition in return for support.
Home bakers would indeed take some customers from commercial bakeries, which have to be licensed and inspected in keeping with their broader business and much larger size.
Other states have addressed the matter by setting varying limits on the amount of business a home baker can do annually. The N.J. bill’s proposed cap of $50,000 in gross sales would be among the nation’s highest, which seem to range from $15,000 to $50,000 a year. After the judge struck down the ban in Wisconsin, legislators there voted for a $25,000 limit.
If some lawmakers feel the proposed cap is too high, they should make their case and come to an agreement on what’s reasonable.
But Vitale won’t allow the bill to be released from the Senate health committee he chairs. He said he might allow a Senate vote if the bill is amended to require state inspections of home bakers. That would be just another way of continuing the ban, since inspections would require a prohibitively expensive commercial kitchen in the home.
The libertarian Institute for Justice is supporting three home bakers, members of the small New Jersey Home Bakers Association, in their lawsuit to overturn the ban. The institute also supported the lawsuit that prevailed in Wisconsin.
Since the sale of home-baked goods is legal for charitable purposes in New Jersey, the ban on their sale otherwise seems to have no legitimate basis in law.
But instead of waiting for a judge to do their work, Democrats in Trenton should just join their peers in the other 49 states in overturning this antiquated regulatory overreach.
That would send a small but much needed message that New Jersey sometimes can be friendly to the entrepreneurs who drive much of the economy.