June 5, 2020 Print

Cottage food laws, which exist in many states throughout the country, are designed to exempt producers of food with a longer shelf life from making their products in a commercial kitchen. Nebraska, a leading food-producing state, has gone without a cottage food law until May 2020, forcing many home-made food producers to sell their products only at local farmers’ markets. Thanks in part to the work of the Platte Institute, an Atlas Network partner in Nebraska, a new law will give cottage food producers more options for selling their products while requiring compliance with labeling requirements, registration with the Department of Agriculture, and food safety education. 

Platte’s work to educate legislators and the public on the need for regulatory reform is reshaping the public policy landscape in their home state by facilitating mobile businesses, short-term residential rentals, and occupational licensing requirements. Additionally, they are actively advocating for an end to property tax increases at the local level. 

New standards for the cottage food industry means that food producers will be allowed to sell their products wherever there is a market for it, including online sales. Additionally, the cottage food law backed by Platte Institute does not put a cap on how much income these entrepreneurs can make in a given year—a rarity for cottage food laws throughout the country. Platte provided legislative testimony and a multifaceted media campaign in support of such reform. They also helped organize home bakers and chefs through a “Nebraska Cottage Food” Facebook group to help raise awareness and support for the legislation. 

Platte also teamed up with the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) to carve out occupational licensing exemptions for people receiving government assistance. After the chair of the Health and Human Services committee, Senator Sara Howard, expressed interest in a fee waiver for some licensing requirements, Platte and FGA worked together to craft model legislation. The bill they drafted, Legislative Bill 112, forced licensing boards regulated by the Department of Health and Human Services to waive the first job licensing fee for applicants who either are enrolled in a public assistance program or whose income is below 130 percent of the federal poverty line. Additionally, military families and workers aged 18-25 are also eligible for the waiver. 

The bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Howard, unanimously passed in committee and became law shortly thereafter. “Keep in mind that workers applying for these licenses may have experienced loss of income while obtaining needed training,” explained Platte Institute’s Nicole Fox. “They may have had significant tuition costs, and in many cases, they may also have to pay for continuing education to maintain that license.”

Following a situation in 2018 where licensed massage therapist Jean Thunker was not legally permitted to operate her business in a mobile vehicle, Platte supported legislation to permit mobile massage therapy. Thunker, who lives in a rural area of Nebraska, is now able to travel to her customers and provide services from the comfort of her personal vehicle. The legislation was originally opposed by many industry groups, but legislative testimony from Platte Institute staff on two occasions helped usher it into law. 

Finally, Platte has been instrumental in the passage of two new bills: Legislative Bill 57, which prevents local governments from enacting an outright ban on short-term residential rentals through platforms like AirBnB; and Legislative Bill 103, which prevents automatic property tax increases at the local level. This law requires that local property tax rate increases be subject to a separate public hearing and board vote at the local level, meaning the tax increase cannot be adopted simply by passing a new budget for the tax year. Platte advocated for both of these reforms through newspaper op-eds, Facebook Live streaming, news conferences, and frequent media appearances. 

Atlas Network supported Platte Institute’s occupational licensing reforms through a grant.