Licensed to Chill

Rhode Island might soon let you sell ice cream without government permission

“Do you have a permit for that?”

This is not usually a question you would ask your cashier when buying ice cream or frozen yogurt at a restaurant or other eatery. But if a business wants to sell you frozen desserts in Rhode Island—whether a supermarket, theme park, or local ice cream store—they currently need a special license from the state.

Supposedly, the frozen dessert licensing requirement was originally rooted in public health and safety concerns. The state lawmakers of decades ago presumably thought extra precautions were needed to prevent illness from improperly handled or stored foods. But whether the law ever made sense in the past, it is plainly unnecessary and has few, if any, defenders now.

Establishments that serve food already undergo equipment, food and other safety inspections—which would cover their dessert options, frozen or otherwise—in order to secure and renew their licenses to serve food in the first place. The extra burden of paying every year for a special license to sell frozen desserts is completely redundant. By essentially forcing companies that sell frozen dessert to pay twice for the same safety checks, the law contributes to an unhealthy economic climate for hardworking taxpayers.

As Democratic state Rep. Deborah Ruggiero described the situation to the AP, “You can start killing businesses with a thousand paper cuts of a fee here and a fee there.”

Fortunately, Rhode Island lawmakers are looking to eliminate the prospect of death by a thousand duplicative regulations and costs for businesses. As part of this effort, Ruggiero recently introduced House Bill 6106 to “eliminate the retail frozen dessert processors fee if an establishment is also licensed by the department of health as a food service establishment.”

In other words, restaurants and other “food service establishments” would still technically be required to maintain a frozen dessert license, but the state would no longer be allowed to charge them for it, which is a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, Rhode Island is not alone in imposing duplicative requirements on frozen desserts. Just next door, another offender is neighboring Connecticut. As Ruggiero noted, these kinds of nuisance regulations may not seem particularly onerous by themselves. But when redundant fees and requirements add up—with each presenting a different opportunity to draw costly sanctions with a mistake—these webs of red tape can stifle economic growth and make it that much harder for people to earn an honest living.

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