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Rep. Gattis fights for home bakeries

Thursday, March 26, 2009 by Austin Monitor

It would be hard to predict that a proposed bill on cookies and cupcakes might spark the passions of so many, but Rep. Dan Gattis (R-Georgetown) managed to fill the room at this week’s House Public Health Committee to talk about the need to create a niche for those who want to sell baked goods out of their homes.


In this economic time, it’s no surprise that people would approach Gattis about legalizing home-based baked goods businesses. Businesses like Tiff’s Treats started out in such a manner. Many communities in Texas already have a neighbor who sells batches of cookies or offers to decorate a wedding or birthday cake for a fee.


Alas, as committee members learned, if it’s on a regular basis and for a profit, it’s against current state law.


Now Gattis would like to bring that underground cottage industry out of the shadows by licensing and regulating it, with proper food safety training. As harmless as that might sound, the current commercially regulated industry is vociferously against it, even sending e-mails to committee members with cats licking cakes so that those home-baked treats are a bit less appetizing.


“You’re going to hear complaints from those doing business in this area,” Gattis admitted. “I think allowing people to do this out of their homes, in a limited scope, is pro-family and pro-business legislation.”


And, for the record, Gattis’ mother did decorate wedding cakes out of her home during Gattis’ youth, he told the committee during the explanation of his bill.


Asking for more regulation is not Gattis’ typical style. But Gattis said he recognizes the need to get these businesses legalized and regulated. Ten states currently have similar home-based food production laws.


Gattis said constituents looking for new avenues of income had approached him and asked him to change the law.


“They just want to do it legally,” Gattis said. “We have some people who want to do this, and they’re not going to do it if they’re going to be in violation of the law.”


This new regulation – if it passes – will not trump existing zoning regulations. If a city does not allow a home business, Gattis’ bill will not supersede that. Nor would those things that are now legal – such as non-profit bake sales – be deemed illegal under the Gattis proposal, House Bill 3282, which is dubbed “the Cottage Food Production Act.”


Gattis also has set a number of tight guidelines on this new cottage industry. The bill is limited to high sugar content baked goods and is not expanded to items like breakfast tacos. Operators would have to pay a fee and be licensed and would be required to go through a food handlers training program. The food produced in such businesses would have to be labeled “home produced.”

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