Committee approves home-baking bill after Chloe the 'cupcake girl' testifies

News-DemocratMarch 5, 2014 

— Sixth-grader Chloe Stirling just might have the recipe for getting a bill passed in the Illinois Legislature.

Make some cupcakes, set them in front of lawmakers, then ask for a vote.

The concoction worked Wednesday, when an Illinois House committee heard testimony from Chloe and then voted 10-0 to pass the bill she supported. The bill, which would allow the public sale of some home-baked products, now goes to the House floor.

"It was really exciting," Chloe said after the vote in the Health Care Licenses Committee. "I was a little bit nervous at first. But it was really cool, after I started talking."

The 11-year-old from Troy said the experience taught her "a little bit" about how government works.

House Bill 5354, sponsored by Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, would allow churches and others to continue selling home-baked goods without being regulated by county health departments.

Chloe had been selling cupcakes out of her home until the Madison County Health Department shut her operation down. Chloe told the committee about how her rogue cupcake-making enterprise grew through word of mouth, but was closed after it was featured in the BND Magazine on Jan. 26. She appeared on the "Rachael Ray" show last week.

Meier said he filed the bill "because of what happened to Chloe."

Meier says many churches and other charitable organizations have dinners as fundraisers, where individual members of the organization each bring baked items. For example, he said, a church might sell chicken dinners, with each dinner including a slice of home-baked pie or cake. Meier said he's OK with the church's kitchen having to meet health regulations, but it's going too far to impose health regulations on every home kitchen where a pie is baked.

Toni Corona of the Madison County Health Department testified in opposition to the bill. More than 70 others filled out forms to give testimony as opponents to the bill -- mostly representatives of county health departments across the state -- but Corona was the only opponent to actually testify.

Corona said her department found out about Chloe's enterprise after receiving a complaint from an adult who was denied permission to sell products baked at home. Corona said her office gets 30 to 40 inquiries annually from individuals who want to cook products at home and sell them, and there's a legitimate public health concern with that.

"This was us doing our job just like we do every single day," Corona said. "There's a reason I think we need to handle food safely."

Some committee members questioned the government reach. Rep. Adam Brown, R-Decatur, asked if lemonade stands will be next, and if the government will soon come into homes to inspect meals before families eat.

"At what point does this end?" Brown asked.

Rep. Michael McAuliffe, R-Chicago, said common sense tells consumers that if they buy an item at a bake sale, as opposed to a grocery store, there's some minor risk.

Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, said maybe there's some type of compromise available, such as a "junior license" that would allow youths to sell food from home -- if they pay a fee to get the license.

Meier said he's open to compromise, including the possibility of having the makers of home-baked products sign up for some type of registry, or perhaps requiring the bakers to list the ingredients on packaging.

The committee chairman, Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Chicago, told Meier that several of the committee members want to see the bill amended before it's called for a vote on the House floor.

Chloe brought two plastic containers full of cupcakes to the committee hearing, in hope of giving the lawmakers a taste. But Meier told the committee members he had been informed, just prior to the hearing, that House rules prohibited him from distributing food in the committee room of the Capitol building.

Zalewski, eyeing the cupcakes, told Meier: "You don't play fair, representative."

Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at bbrueggemann@bnd.com or 239-2511.

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