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Our Opinion: Lemonade stands deserve protection from bureaucrats

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It’s time to follow the Lone Star State’s lead — North Carolina needs a lemonade freedom law.

On June 10, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 234 to prevent overzealous police officers, zoning administrators and health inspectors from shutting down children’s lemonade stands. Its sponsor, Rep. Matt Krause of Fort Worth, said a 2015 case where authorities did just that inspired him to write the bill.

Each summer, a news report of local officials enforcing vendor permit or health code requirements against young entrepreneurs somewhere in the United States goes viral. The stories prompt bipartisan outrage, yet bureaucrats with more free time than common sense persist.

“In many towns, there are ordinances prohibiting bartering, selling, peddling or trading on any street, sidewalk or public parking lot,” Charlotte attorney Elizabeth Kemper wrote in a July 2017 blog post. “These ordinances generally don’t apply to private property, however. Should a grumpy neighbor decide to call city officials about your child’s lemonade stand, it may actually be in violation of zoning ordinances if that lemonade stand is on the public sidewalk or road. However, if the stand is on the lawn or driveway of your home, it likely will not be a violation of zoning laws.”

Kemper adds: “Health regulations may also come into play. In many places, there are permit requirements governing temporary food establishments, such as food service operators at festivals. The permits often cost money and require an application process.”

Slapping kids with permit fees and even fines for unlicensed lemonade stands has become so ordinary that Kraft Foods’ Country Time powdered lemonade brand launched a “Legal-Ade” program last year. Country Time will pay up to $300 to cover fees and fines for young entrepreneurs 14 and under, even if they’re selling a competitor’s product or serving fresh-squeezed lemonade.

Lemonade stands are a childhood rite of passage. State laws are necessary to protect them because each county, city and town maintains its own rules for food and beverage vendors. In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis signed a similar bill into law April 1, and lawmakers in Minnesota and New York have also introduced lemonade freedom bills.

Some may call such legislation frivolous. It isn’t. The absurdity factor here is that adults in positions of authority routinely abuse their discretion to apply codes meant for bona fide businesses to kids’ time-honored tradition of sharing sugary joy and earning a little pocket money. City councils and zoning boards didn’t envision their rules would be stretched so far beyond their clear intent.

Lemonade laws wouldn’t be necessary if common sense were more, well, common. The joyless functionaries who waste taxpayer resources to crack down on Jimmy and Mary Beth’s lemonade stand show they lack the good judgment required to responsibly exercise public authority. When such administrative failures persist, it falls to state lawmakers to rein the bureaucrats in.

We’re far past the crossover deadline, the date when state House and Senate bills must pass the chamber in which they originate in order to be considered in the other chamber and become law. But that’s a speed bump, not a roadblock. Many pieces of legislation are tacked onto the state budget or added to other bills that have already crossed over.

This popular, feel-good law would be a rare bipartisan win in Raleigh. Gov. Roy Cooper and Senate leader Phil Berger could take a short break from battling over Medicaid expansion and clink glasses of lemonade. Who wouldn’t toast more freedom for North Carolina’s children?

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