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City eases rules on Lincoln-based home bakers following lawsuit
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City eases rules on Lincoln-based home bakers following lawsuit

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Home Baker

Cindy Harper, a Lincoln home baker who challenged the city's cottage food ordinance, poses for a photo in her kitchen in May.

Lincoln City Council members reformed a city ordinance regulating home bakers this week, relaxing local rules passed last year that prompted a court challenge disputing their constitutionality. 

Lincoln created its own permit for those who produce cottage foods, who make their goods in their house, after state lawmakers in 2019 created a law that would only require registering with the state to operate. 

Cindy Harper and the Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit in Lancaster County District Court seeking to undo the ordinance requiring home bakers like her to get permitted and open their kitchens to inspections, saying it conflicted with state law. 

Judge allows challenge to Lincoln's regulations for home bakers to proceed

Her lawsuit remains pending in court, but last fall, it cleared an early obstacle when a judge shot down an attempt by the city to have the case dismissed.

Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department leaders proposed the ordinance changes earlier this month.

"The primary reason we're changing the ordinance is to harmonize it better with the state regulations on cottage foods," Scott Holmes of the Health Department told the council during a public hearing Feb. 8. 

Lincoln woman seeks to overturn city's new regulations for home bakers

The Health Department will no longer require a permit to operate a cottage food business. Instead, owners would need only to register with the Health Department and pay an annual $30 registration fee, he said.

The changes also narrowed the department's ability to inspect the kitchens of those who produce cottage foods, a spokesman for the Institute for Justice said. For example, the new change would allow inspection following a complaint of foodborne illness.

The old rules would require inspections for a producer to operate.

Rules for Lincoln home bakers approved over cries of 'excessive' rules, regulations

To date, the Health Department issued 25 permits for cottage foods, Holmes said. 

Harper, who operates Creative Confections, welcomed the changes and said she's reviewing with her attorneys how they affect her lawsuit. 

“I’m very pleased with the revision to the ordinance and that cottage food producers in Lincoln can now work with regulations that are more in line with the state law,” Harper said in a news release.

City: Proposed regulations for home bakers in Lincoln add 'higher level of protection' from food-borne illness

Institute for Justice attorney Joshua Windham, the lead attorney on the case, called the changes a major improvement for Harper and her peers in Lincoln.

"Shelf-stable foods like Cindy’s sugar cookies are just as safe in Lincoln as they are in the rest of the state, so there was never any reason for Lincoln to set itself apart with additional regulations," Windham said. "This new ordinance better reflects that reality.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

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Local government reporter

Riley Johnson reports on local government in Lincoln.

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