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Stymied in Legislature, WA Home-Kitchen Backers Won't Give Up

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Friday, February 14, 2020   

SEATTLE -- While a bill to legalize home kitchens for businesses has died in the Washington state Legislature, supporters believe the effort helped create momentum for next session.

Under current law, food for public sale has to be prepared in a commercial kitchen. That creates barriers, especially for small-business owners who lack space. That's where "microenterprise" home kitchens could come in to fill the gap.

Will Von Geldern, director of advocacy and communications at Ventures, a Seattle-based nonprofit for entrepreneurs, said allowing food preparation only in commercial kitchens makes sense in theory but doesn't meet a growing need.

"There's also a severe lack of commercial kitchen space across the state and the available spaces are very expensive," he said. "So, that can be cost-prohibitive for low-income folks -- and many of those are women, people of color or new immigrants who are looking to achieve financial security."

Von Geldern said he was working with the Department of Health on the bill to create a home kitchen pilot project. While it didn't pan out, he believes there's a good structure in place for next year. The legislation included a requirement for annual permit renewals from a local public health board and a limit of 30 meals per day or 150 per week.

Von Geldern said he believes legalizing microenterprise home kitchens also could be a boon for rural communities.

"We see this as a really big opportunity for rural business owners," he said. "In urban contexts, for example, accessing a commercial kitchen may be possible but very expensive. In a rural community, you might just not have access to it."

In 2018, California legalized microenterprise home kitchens. Von Geldern said efforts in Washington state are informed by that law.

The text of the bill, HB 2777, is online at lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov.


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