An ‘incredibly unprecedented situation’: Lisa Kivirist on home baking in Wisconsin

By Kirsten Adshead/motherbility

Lisa Kivirist’s answer is immediate.

She’s asked, “How much of this did you anticipate four years ago when you thought, ‘Let’s pursue a cookie bill’?”

“None of it! None of it!”, Kivirist said.

“This” is the four years, multiple legislative bills and one lawsuit Kivirist and her friends Kriss Marion and Dela Ends have gone through in order to get Wisconsin’s home bakers the right to sell their products without needing a commercial kitchen or special license.

Their efforts have paid off: Thanks to the women’s court case, home bakers are allowed to sell their products, without a sales cap, as long as their goods meet certain safety requirements. Lafayette County Judge Duane Jorgenson ruled last May that the state’s ban on the sale of homemade goods was unconstitutional, and affirmed last October that his ruling pertained to all Wisconsinites.

That’s for now. Lawmakers still may vote in the coming months and years to impose a sale cap.

“I’m all for a decent law. That’s what we wanted to begin with,” Kivirist said this week, after Jorgenson denied the state’s request to reconsider his ruling.

“Since October and continuing today, we are in this unique, incredibly unprecedented situation where, in the state of Wisconsin, we have a judge’s ruling saying that selling home-baked goods is legal, but we do not have a law (regulating those sales),” she said. “Therefore the Department of Agriculture (Trade, and Consumer Protection) does not have any legal right to regulate, even though they’ve been trying.”

How does she define a “decent law”? Kivirist thought the state Senate’s version of the “cookie bill,” setting a $25,000 annual sales cap on home-baked goods, was a “solid potential law.”

When an Assembly amended dropped the cap to $10,000, though? Nope.

Kivirist spoke this week with motherbility about what’s happened so far and what she thinks will happen next.

Photos courtesy of Institute for Justice (pictured at top, from left, Dela Ends, Lisa Kivirist and Kriss Marion)
Interested In Selling Your Homemade Goods? Here Are Some Resources.
Homemade for Sale: How to Set Up and Market a Food Business from Your Home Kitchen,” by Kivirist and her husband, John D. Ivanko gives resources and answers questions on what is, and is not, allowed under state law. Their Facebook page includes a community of more than 2,200.
Wisconsin Home Bakers Facebook page is a closed group that gives home bakers a chance to chat with and ask questions of other home bakers.
Join motherbility’s list of home-based bakers, to help your neighbors find you.

Her initial expectations in 2014, on first proposing a cookie bill: “Everybody has always been behind it, that we have talked to, in that this catches up Wisconsin with the rest of the country as far as cottage food laws go. It provides incredible opportunity for small-scale business. It meets all that check list, being ‘open for business’ in Wisconsin, right? So, no, we did not anticipate getting stymied in politics. And the fact that there are (politicians) in this state like the Speaker of the (Assembly) that control a lot and control what bills go on the agenda or not. And that was really blindsiding because I really thought democracy was more participatory than that.”

(The current cookie bill is the Assembly, which isn’t scheduled to meet any more this year. There is, however, talk about lawmakers coming back into session to address some issues still on the table. Any bills that aren’t passed before a new Legislature convenes next year are dead.)

Assuming no action this year, what will happen on the issue in 2019?: “Well, we have an election in 2018. Players may shift. So that could hopefully work to our advantage, where we might have some leadership that can see that it won’t take much to connect dots and get something that can work for everyone.”

Does she think home bakers can get an acceptable bill through the Legislature while Robin Vos (a strong critic of home-baked goods sales) is Speaker of the Assembly? “We haven’t yet. … Sure, in theory. But we haven’t yet. And he has had every opportunity to step up to the leadership plate and do something good for small-scale entrepreneurs in Wisconsin, and hasn’t. … If he would return our calls, that would be a start. But it’s unfortunate and disappointing.”

(Vos’ office did not respond to motherbility’s request for comment on the bill.)

What’s the bottom line? “The good news is, thanks to the lawsuit, we can bake. So, frankly, I’m a little bit in the ‘whatever’ camp, ‘OK, politicians, take your time,’ because democracy works for us in the other branch (judiciary). And it’s super important for us now as Wisconsin home bakers to self-educate: ‘What can we do? What can’t we do?’ And continue to collaborate.”



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