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Revamped bill to streamline food truck licensing process makes progress in General Assembly

A bill to streamline food truck health inspections statewide is moving through the General Assembly.

A bill that would streamline the health inspection process for food trucks looking to operate in multiple counties in Maryland is advancing in the state legislature after it was tabled last year.

The bill, first introduced in 2016, has been revived with new requirements and a fee structure for health department licensing for food trucks that would apply across county lines. This year's version (Senate Bill 262/House Bill 771) passed the Senate Feb. 22 and is currently in committee in the House of Delegates.

Del. Warren Miller, who sponsored the bill, said he expects the Senate's bill to be voted out of the Health and Government Operations Committee next week and pass the House without issue. 

After the legislation was tabled last year (it did not make it out of the Senate), stakeholders — including food truck operators, state legislators, members of the Restaurant Association of Maryland and health inspectors — held summer work groups to come to agreeable terms.

Under the new bill, a food truck could operate in any county within 90 miles of its home base. The health department inspection in its home county would provide the license needed to operate within that radius, but the food truck could be inspected at the request of another jurisdiction's health department.

The truck would also have to pay a fee of no more than $300 for each county where it wanted to serve food outside its home jurisdiction. Additionally, other counties could impose fines if food trucks are not in compliance with their regulations.

As it stands, food trucks must undergo health inspections in every county where they want to operate and pay fees as high as $600 per county to operate there.

Maryland Mobile Food Vending Association President Dave Pulford, who helped spearhead the bill, said the new regulations would save food truck owners time. A single inspection can take a truck off the road for an entire day, he said. 

"That’s a lot of revenue to try to make up," Pulford said.

Pulford, who owns the Howard County-based Upslidedown Dave food truck, said he had hoped the legislation would cover the entire state, but most trucks don't operate beyond a 90-mile radius.

A food truck could still apply for a special event permit to set up at an event that falls outside that area.

The Restaurant Association of Maryland and health inspectors voiced opposition to the bill when it was first introduced last year. Health inspectors initially worried food truck operators would flock to counties with more relaxed regulations and lower licensing fees to secure their initial inspection. Food trucks are held to the same standards under state health codes, but some counties have stricter guidelines than others, and licensing fees vary from county to county.

Pulford said the group worked closely with health inspectors from counties across the state to allay their concerns. 

Ed Singer, the health officer for the Carroll County Health Department, took part in the work groups and testified on behalf of the bill.

"Since they’re licensed in each county, that gives each county the authority to go out and inspect and handle any violations," he said. "I think everybody’s happy with it."

The restaurant association thought the initial bill would give food trucks an unfair advantage over their brick-and-mortar counterparts. But following the summer work sessions, the restaurant association ended up supporting the revised bill, according to Melvin Thompson, the group's senior vice president of government affairs and public policy.

"They’ve all agreed this bill is the answer they’re looking for," said Miller, a Republican representing Carroll and Howard counties. "It just simplifies what they have to do. They can get one inspection and operate in all these jurisdictions."

Pulford said he has no problem with health inspections conducted onsite if a food truck ventures to another county.  

"It’s a lot more reasonable for them to come to us whenever we’re in that county instead of having to pull of the road," Pulford said. "If that’s what it takes to make sure people are safe when they eat my food, I’m fine."

Because the bill was filed as emergency legislation, it would take effect immediately if Gov. Larry Hogan signs it, while most bills are implemented later in the year. 

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