The bill would also replace criminal penalties with fines. (Courtesy photo by Rico Ocampo/Make The Road)
Lawmakers are proposing a measure that would simplify the rules for street vendors to obtain health permits, easing bureaucratic barriers for vendors who face criminalization due to outdated policies that deny them access to food vending permits.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Fabian Doñate, D-Las Vegas, would lessen the equipment requirements and design a framework to allow vendors to operate as a small business. Senate Bill 92 would also remove criminal penalties for health code violations, replacing them with fines.
Lawmakers said the bill would remove systemic barriers to starting a business and further economic opportunity for vendors.
“Street vendors are working class people. They don’t have the opportunity to hire a lobbyist or pay for their advocacy. They are everyday individuals who seek to provide for their families and earn an honest and fair income,” Doñate said during the bill’s first legislative hearing under the Senate Committee on Government Affairs Committee Wednesday.
Street vendors in Nevada have increased in number across the state, according to an IBISWorld analysis presented by legislators. Those vendors are largely made up of people of Latino and immigrant backgrounds, who face hurdles to operate as legitimate businesses.
Food vendors — regardless of size — are required to have costly equipment like three-basin sink and stainless steel fixtures. That prohibits most elote stands and fruits carts—two of the most iconic street vending operations. Advocates have long argued that health departments should create a separate category for pushcart vendors, allowing them to meet requirements with smaller and cheaper equipment.
“Legalizing street vending provides entrepreneurs with a low cost entry into the marketplace, creating economic opportunities for those who may not have the resources to start a brick and mortar business,” said Jose Rivera, an organizer for Make the Road Nevada, a nonprofit immigrant advocacy group. “Legalizing street vending not only protects their livelihoods, but also reduces the risk of fines, arrest, and even deportation.”
Street vendors have grown distrustful of local health departments after having their equipment and merchandise confiscated, causing vendors great financial harm, said Rivera. Operating across multiple jurisdictions with different health codes has also caused confusion for street vendors. The bill would create standardized regulations across all cities in Washoe and Clark County, said lawmakers.
The proposal has broad support from community members, advocacy groups, and elected officials.
A representative for the Nevada Secretary of State — the agency responsible for business permitting — testified in support of the bill as written.
Supporters of the bill packed the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas, many of whom eagerly testified before the Senate Committee on Government Affairs.
Baltazar Gonzalez, a street vendor in Las Vegas who sells elotes and chicharrones, joined a rally outside the Grant Sawyer Building to support the bill. He said one of his biggest daily fears is health officials taking his equipment, which he uses to support his family.
As a food vendor, Gonzalez said he takes pride in the cleanliness of his operation and would not risk the health of his clients with unsanitary practices. Gonzalez hopes lawmakers pass the bill, so street vendors like him can run their businesses without fear of harassment.
“We’re not causing any harm to anyone,” Gonzalez said in his native Spanish. “We dedicate ourselves to this to support our families, our kids. We have no other choice but to move forward.”
“In reality, people are happy with us,” he continued. “People treat us well, and they like everything we sell. They’ve never told us ‘this isn’t good.’ People have been pleased with everything we sell.”
Street vendors are a significant part of the culinary culture in Las Vegas, said supporters. Other Nevadans criticized the state for criminalizing street vendors for so long, despite community support for the practice.
“The question I ask myself is why do they keep falling into this circumstance where they aren’t able to apply for the requirements?” Doñate said. “The reality is we haven’t done a good job at meeting folks where they’re at. These barriers exist.”
Other states have taken up legislation to increase permitting among street vendors, including California, Arizona, Utah and Florida.
The bill aims to create a task force on street vendors in the Office of the Secretary of State that would review and reform regulations to address the needs of street vendors.
“Street vendors have not been given the proper support to comply with food and licensing regulations,” said Robert Purdy, an attorney advising the Nevada Hispanic Legislative Caucus. “It’s important to maintain public safety near our gaming properties, while also allowing vendors a reasonable legal way to operate in residential areas.”
Opposition from Metro, local governments
The bill does have opponents, however, who say it would diminish local government’s ability to regulate street vending. Opponents also pushed for more requirements around labeling, sanitation, and food safety.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department opposed the bill, saying the law would prevent officers from issuing citations for street vendors on the resort corridor. A representative for the police department said they were concerned about their ability to enforce street vendors selling counterfeit merchandise, however, the bill solely applies to food vendors.
Clark County also opposed the bill as written. Joanna Jacob, the government affairs manager for Clark County, noted that while the county has been working with Doñate to craft the bill, concerns remain. The bill prohibits certain restrictions on street vendors.
“While we are not opposed to regulation of this very important business type for our community, we also have an obligation in Clark County to do equal protection for all businesses that we regulate,” Jacob said, adding the county does not believe the bill is clear enough, making enforcement of the bill difficult.
The City of Henderson, the City of North Las Vegas, the City of Reno, the City of Las Vegas opposed the bill, adding they believe local governments should be allowed to implement their own regulations. One issue is that Nevada is a strict Dillon’s Rule state, meaning local governments have little autonomy and must adhere to state code.
Doñate said he is actively working toward a solution at the state level and believes lawmakers, advocates, and local governments can strike a balance that can work for everyone.
“I do believe within the next few weeks or even the next few days we will come to an agreement. That is my commitment,” Doñate said.
Article was edited to clarify that a representative for the Nevada Secretary of State testified in favor of the bill, not Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar himself.
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