For years, street food vendors have asked lawmakers to update ordinances that create legal and financial hurdles to obtaining a valid permit — but they may have to wait a little longer.
With near unanimous bipartisan support, Nevada lawmakers have passed a bill that would give counties and cities the authority to establish a clear path for street vendors to operate legally by modernizing rules that often make it too difficult, time-consuming or expensive to obtain valid permits.
But when those ordinances will actually be developed is still uncertain.
“We’re hoping that once this bill is passed, it will be as soon as possible,” said Robert Garcia, the economic justice organizer for Make the Road Nevada. “Within the next couple of months, even.”
The bill does not provide a timetable for when counties and cities must update their ordinances in compliance with the new law, leaving street vendors to wait for direction.
Still, the immigrant advocacy group called the bill “a big step forward” that helps legitimize the iconic carts and stands that sell elote, agua fresca, fruit, and other goodies common on the streets of Las Vegas.
State ordinances for the operation of food establishments in Nevada are designed with larger operations such as restaurants or food trucks in mind. Equipment required by the narrow ordinances is often too expensive for a small operator, including three-compartment sinks and stainless steel fixtures.
Street vendors in Nevada have increased in number across the state, according to an IBISWorld analysis presented to legislators. Those vendors are largely made up of people of Latino and immigrant backgrounds, who face hurdles to operate as legitimate businesses.
“Street vendors do not cause any harm,” Garcia said. “What they’re trying to do is make an honest living, whether it’s selling food on the streets or selling food to the community, they just want to support themselves, their families, and contribute to the community.”
Advocates note the bill also creates an interim grace period for street vendors, while counties and cities create and implement new ordinances.
The bill, SB92, requires city and county lawmakers to create an ordinance regulating sidewalk vendors. Counties and cities that don’t adopt an ordinance will be banned from citing, fining, or prosecuting a sidewalk vendor for operating without a permit or outside certain venues.
“Oftentimes, street vendors are targeted and harassed by city officials or police officers, saying they’re not allowed to sell,” Garcia said. “The bill will help prevent these harassments.”
The bill prevents the complete prohibition of sidewalk vendors or criminal penalties for sidewalk vending in a residential area, effectively decriminalizing street food vendors.
The measure will only apply to Clark and Washoe County, the two counties in Nevada with populations of 100,000 or more.
What those ordinances will ultimately be is up to local lawmakers.
Street vendors have grown distrustful of local health departments after having their equipment and merchandise confiscated by health departments who do not offer a clear path to operate legally. Operating across multiple jurisdictions with different health codes has also caused confusion for street vendors.
In order to streamline the development of local ordinances, the bill will establish a task force on safe sidewalk vending to help standardize regulations across all cities in Washoe and Clark County.
The task force will be responsible for simplifying laws governing sidewalk vending, allowing vendors with carts to more easily obtain local health permits, and developing enforcement mechanisms for sidewalk vendors.
The task force — made up of nine members appointed by the Secretary of State — will include a health district representative, a government employee responsible for business licensing, a gaming or restaurant representative, law enforcement, and four members who are sidewalk vendors or representatives of that community.
The bill was delivered to the governor on Wednesday and is waiting to be signed. Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo has five days to sign or veto the bill before it automatically becomes law.