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Policy Matters: From food trucks in NYC and Chicago to Missouri smoking bans

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Restaurant and Foodservice

This post is by Janet Forgrieve, a contributing editor to Restaurant SmartBrief. Policy Matters is a weekly column that rounds up the latest state, federal and international policy news that affects the restaurant industry.

Vendors: Proposed NYC law would kill the street food scene

New York’s food truck operators prove their mettle daily, jumping a host of barriers to serve Manhattan’s lunchtime crowds, writes Midtown Lunch. Last week, City Council members Jessica Lappin and Karen Koslowitz proposed an ordinance that promises to make life even tougher. The proposed city ordinance would authorize the Health Department to revoke food trucks’ permits for parking violations. Two violations in a year could result in a temporary permit suspension and a third would mean permanent revocation. Lappin says the move was spurred by constituent complaints about “meter feeding” vendors who take up the city’s scarce parking spots all day and leave no room for their cars.

Vendors and their representatives, including the Street Vendor Project, say the move is yet another in a string of proposals, decisions and laws designed to drive them out of business. The Street Vendor Project, part of the nonprofit Urban Justice Center, is gearing up to fight the ordinance, which it says imposes a much harsher punishment on small-business owners than it does on individual citizens who merely have to pay a fine when they’re cited for violating parking laws.

“The last few years have brought an explosion of creativity and innovation to the New York street food scene, mostly in the form of trucks,” SVP said in its statement opposing the ordinance. “These vendors — most of whom don’t have the capital to open restaurants — are incredibly popular. They are investing in our economy and creating their own businesses during a time of financial crisis.”

The SVP has created a Facebook page for those who want to speak out on the bill, and vendors will have a chance to have their say at a public meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Chicago food truck ordinance postponed

As the Big Apple’s vendors gear up to fight the threat to their livelihoods, a move to cultivate a livelier food truck scene in the Windy City will have to wait a bit longer. Chicago’s City Council postponed presenting a proposal that would mark a drastic change from the current law that allows vendors to sell only food prepared in brick-and-mortar kitchens. In cities such as New York and Los Angeles, which have thriving food truck scenes, vehicles are outfitted with kitchen equipment and the often exotic food is prepared on-site. Scott Waguespack, the alderman drafting the proposal, told the Chicago Reader that his group needs more time. “We are working on a very large plan for Chicago that will create jobs and business opportunities,” he said. “It’s the right plan and it will succeed despite the details that need ironing out.”

Springfield, Mo., mayor moves to widen smoking ban

Missouri’s smoking ban went into effect in 2003, with a host of exceptions, including eateries that make more than half their profits on liquor sales and establishments with ventilation systems to effectively remove the smoke. Now Springfield Mayor Jim O’Neal is stirring an old debate as he pushes to make the ban more comprehensive and outlaw smoking in all indoor public places. The first time around, the ban stirred anger among nonexempt eateries. Now, restaurants that spent tens of thousands of dollars to install ventilation systems fear they invested in vain, and hookah bars and cigar stores worry that the mayor’s proposal, set to be presented to the City Council on June 28, will kill their businesses altogether.

Russian sin tax

In a move designed to both raise needed tax revenue and curtail unhealthy choices by its citizens, the Russian government is moving to tack enough taxes onto vodka to more than double the price by 2013, various wire services including the Associated Press reported last week. Officials also propose to raise cigarette taxes by about 30 cents each year during the same period. Vodka has been the country’s go-to booze of choice for more than a century, and consumption among Russians has been on the upswing in recent decades — Reuters reports that the average Russian drinks 38 pints of pure alcohol each year. Previous governmental efforts at curtailing drinking and smoking through laws or additional taxes have been met with resistance, and industry experts say the latest move could have the opposite of the desired effect. Rather than raise additional tax funds, the move is likely to result in a flood of illegally produced — and untaxed — vodka, and cut legal production by a third in the first year.

pixhook, via iStock