(NaturalNews) The District of Criminals seems to be in a desperate search for new ways to criminalize free trade, with new proposed amendments that would put vendors at farmers markets and food trucks, as well as ticket "scalpers," at risk of harsh fines and even prison time for violating the district's complicated and highly restrictive street vending regulations.
The R Street Institute reports that the Washington, D.C., District Council's Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee recently held hearings on the new proposals, which would substantially increase the penalties associated with vending code violations. Rather than incur a simple $50 fine, violators would be ticketed up to $300, according to reports, and could face up to 90 days in prison.
"[T]he DC City Council is considering legislation imposing harsh fines and jail sentences on food trucks and farmer's markets who violate DC's incredibly burdensome food regulations," wrote Norm Singleton for Campaign for Liberty. "These new penalties will raise the price DC consumers pay for food; they also will discourage potential entrepreneurs from starting their own food truck business."
By targeting 'scalpers,' D.C. pushes food vendors in front of the bus
The proposals come as the council accidentally failed to reinstate regulations, which recently expired, outlawing street "scalpers" from selling tickets to shows and other events on public property. But the reinstatement of this prohibition, along with a corresponding escalation of associated penalties for violations, threatens food vendors and ticket "scalpers" alike.
"The addition of criminal penalties to the vending code also has broader implications for street vendors generally, and come on the heels of a lengthy fight over where the district's food trucks would be allowed to park," explains RStreet.org.
"That battle resulted in an earlier major overhaul of vending regulations passed last June, which created limited 'vending zones' within which food trucks selected via a new lottery system would be allowed to operate."
Then there is the issue of why some places like D.C. even restrict ticket scalping in the first place. In a blog post published by TheWashington Post back in 2013, reporter Lydia DePillis questioned why scalping is looked at negatively, since it essentially corrects a common market malfunction whereby event tickets are not being sold for what they are actually worth.
"After all, scalpers just make up for market inefficiency, by capturing the difference between what the venue decides the ticket is worth and what the market thinks it's actually worth," writes DePillis. "And shouldn't ticket vendors be able to cut scalpers out of the process by instituting a dynamic pricing system that charges more for in-demand tickets and increases ticket prices as the event comes closer?"
Heavy restrictions and regulatory requirements squelching local food movement in D.C.
All this aggression toward street vendors will only make it more difficult for average people to make a living with little overhead and upfront costs. Setting up a food truck, after all, is typically a much less expensive venture than buying or leasing a brick-and-mortar food establishment. And selling fresh produce at a farmers market is similarly more feasible and accessible than, say, establishing a full-service grocery store.
"There are also a few other new bureaucratic requirements this year just to open a market," adds Washington City Paper about the iron-fisted regulations food vendors in D.C. face today.
"In the past, most market organizers dealt primarily with the Department of Transportation, which gives out public space permits. If vendors planned to cook food, the market would also need a propane permit from the Office of the Fire Marshall. If they were weighing vegetables on scales, they'd get a visit from DCRA's Office of Weights and Measures."