Illinois governor signs 'cupcake bill,' pre-teen bakers rejoice

Pre-teen baker Chloe Stirling became a national celebrity after Illinois bureaucrats shut down her fledgling home cupcake business. State lawmakers unanimously passed a law protecting home microbakers.

Seth Perlman/AP
Chloe Stirling (c.), 12, of Troy, Ill., presents cupcakes from her Hey, Cupcake! bakery to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (r.) in the governor's office at the Illinois State Capitol May 13, 2014, in Springfield Ill. Chloe achieved nationwide notoriety after her in-home cupcake business was shut down by the Madison County Health Department.

Home bakers in Illinois can breathe a sigh of relief: The government is no longer tugging at their apron strings.

Gov. Pat Quinn (D) is signing into law Tuesday the so-called “cupcake bill” that will allow home kitchen operators to bake free freely without the intervention of local governments or health departments as long as the home operations pull in less than $1,000 per month or there is not a complaint or health-safety issue.

The cupcakes became hot potatoes for state lawmakers after it was revealed the Madison County Health Department shut down Hey Cupcake! the banner for pre-teen proprietor Chloe Stirling of Troy, Ill., who was baking to help out local fundraisers through sales to family and friends. Local officials caught wind of Chloe’s kitchen smells following a newspaper article that championed her baking skills, and in January she was shut down for selling baked goods without a license or a state-certified kitchen.

Chloe is not alone. According to 2008 research by the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass., almost 30 percent of Americans work in jobs that require some form of federal, state or county licensure, which is six times the number in the 1950s. Cottage industries have been under scrutiny in recent years from local and state governments seeking new revenue to plug budget holes.

Republicans seized on Chloe’s story after she became a folk hero of sorts, appearing on the Rachael Ray television show and later winning thousands of dollars of appliances, plus a new, commercial-grade kitchen addition to her family home, courtesy of a local remodeler.

“I admire so much the young entrepreneurial business mindset that she has and how driven she is,” Jason Spengler, president of Spengler Plumbing, Heating & Cooling, told The Chicago Tribune.

Republican state Rep. Charlie Meier sponsored the bill to overturn the country health department policy; last week it passed both houses unanimously.

“Some of this stuff seems so stupid to me, that we have these rules,” Representative Meier told National Public Radio.

Before the billed cleared the state legislature, the Illinois Department of Public Health tried to block, or at least alter, the measure. Chicago area public health officials did succeed in amending the bill with a loophole: It only applies to home kitchen operations where the local governing body has adopted an ordinance authorizing the direct sale of baked goods.

State Republicans cheered the bill but criticized Governor Quinn's support , suggesting that he was bowing to political pressure.

“What we ended up with is a good compromise that stops an unneeded government overreach. But Quinn shouldn’t be posing as a hero here when his agency’s actions put this whole process in jeopardy. I understand he wants to appear to be on the side of the public, but he really shouldn’t be using this legislation, or this wonderful young girl, in such a transparently political way,” said Illinois Sen. Jason Barickman (R).

Cottage industries like food trucks, ride sharing, and even AirBnB home rentals are starting to gain notice from legislators who say they threaten longtime industries like restaurants, taxicabs, and hotels. Chris Muller, a professor at the School of Hospitality Administration at Boston University, says that “micro-businesses” like Hey Cupcake! do not yet qualify as a risk to the local food industry.

“If dozens of these small operations were all clustered around a single neighborhood restaurant, the owner might become concerned,” says Professor Muller. But “no food truck operator or even a summertime ice cream truck could survive very long” with $12,000 in annual sales.

In comparison, the average yearly sales for quick service restaurants are about $775,000, according to the National Restaurant Association.

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