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On second try, Senate passes 'cupcake girl' legislation

SPRINGFIELD — At first, it looked like the “cupcake-girl” bill suffered the same fate as an overbaked batch of brownies or cookies: It got tossed.

But the Illinois Senate had second thoughts, undoing a vote it had taken earlier in the day and voting to give a downstate 12-year-old cupcake baker the right to stay in business without her family having to build on a second kitchen in their home to satisfy their county public health department.

The Senate used a parliamentary maneuver to reverse a 17-32 vote that appeared to have killed legislation aimed to help Chloe Stirling. On a second try, the Senate voted 57-0 on legislation that would keep her mixing bowls spinning and bake-oven lit.

“Let them eat cupcakes,” said state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, after the early-evening revote.

Earlier in the day, the Senate overwhelmingly rejected legislation that would have permitted home-baked bake sales so long as the sellers agreed to undergo sanitation training, label ingredients, pay licensing fees, notify buyers their products were made in a home kitchen and had sales of less than $1,000 per month.

State Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, agreed to remove those requirements from the bill so that it returned to the form that had passed the House earlier. That plan allowed local health departments to take action against home-kitchen operations that sell baked goods only in the event of a complaint or foodborne illness outbreak.

The legislative push aimed to address what many felt was the injustice of a 12-year-old Chloe Stirling in Downstate Troy having her home-baked, cupcake-sale operation shut down by Madison County public health officials.

“Oh my gosh, we are so excited, and it actually passed in the original form,” Chloe’s mother, Heather Stirling, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “We are over-the-moon excited.”

Asked how they intend to celebrate now that the bill is bound for Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk, the girl’s mother answered, “We will celebrate — with lots of cupcakes.”

Earlier this month, Chloe Stirling came to Springfield to make her case for legislative relief, testifying in a House committee and even presenting Quinn with four of her frosted treats.

“I was kind of surprised it didn’t pass in the Senate,” a disappointed-sounding Chloe told the Sun-Times after the initial vote Tuesday. “I learned that probably you don’t get what you want all the time, but it’s good to still try.”

Her mom voiced frustration at that outcome.

“This is our first experience getting real involved in policy and things like that. She’s learned a lot,” she said. “But the fact the outcome is so ridiculous, yeah, it’s just disappointing. We’re in the exact same spot that started this mess. The same reason everybody was outraged because she’s illegal, we’re still there.”

In the first vote, Trotter took a thumping from senators who arguing his changes from the House version went too far and were unduly burdensome for children like Stirling wanting to make a few bucks off selling cupcakes or cookies on their driveways. Trotter, in explaining his decision to remove the bill’s amendments that went down to defeat, said his changes had been “very misunderstood” by his colleagues.

But Trotter’s colleagues seemed to boil down the issue in the simplest of terms.

“This is a…girl from a responsible family, who’s selling cupcakes, and for Pete’s sake, we ought to just let her sell the cupcakes unless someone dies of an overdose of them,” said Sen. William Haine, D-Alton, who voted against Trotter’s legislation.

Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, said the regulatory requirements Trotter was proposing would stifle the spirit of entrepreneurship of young people and even might have disallowed the lemonade stand Oberweis said he set up as child on his family’s driveway during garage sales.

“This may sound like a silly thing known as the ‘cupcake girl’ bill, but this goes to the heart of what goes on in Springfield,” Oberweis said. “It’s an example of how we are Illinoizing — killing — entrepreneurship among kids.”

Trotter, however, defended the principle behind his legislation.

“It sounds good to talk about all these things — that we’re stifling entrepreneurship,” he said. “No, we’re actually encouraging it the right way. There are laws that have to be adhered to when you sell to the public. There are things we must be cognizant of, and that is the allergies or the other things that will impact other individuals’ health. That’s the job of public health.”

Trotter’s legislation needed 30 votes to pass the Senate.

[View the story “Illinois’ ‘cupcake bill’ gets debated, frosted” on Storify]