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I Tried to Open a Lemonade Stand

A Commentary By John Stossel

Friday, February 24, 2012

Want to open a business in America? It isn't easy.

In Midway, Ga., a 14-year-old girl and her 10-year-old sister sold lemonade from their front yard. Two police officers bought some. But the next day, different officers ordered them to close their stand.

Their father went to city hall to try to find out why. The clerk laughed and said she didn't know. Eventually, Police Chief Kelly Morningstar explained, "We were not aware of how the lemonade was made, who made the lemonade and of what the lemonade was made with."

Give me a break. If she doesn't know, so what? But kids trying their first experiment with entrepreneurship are being shut down all over America. Officials in Hazelwood, IllinoisIll., ordered little girls to stop selling Girl Scout cookies.

It made me want to try to jump through the legal hoops required to open a simple lemonade stand in New York City. Here's some of what one has to do:
    -- Register as sole proprietor with the County Clerk's Office (must be done in person)
    -- Apply to the IRS for an Employer Identification Number.
    -- Complete 15-hr Food Protection Course!
    -- After the course, register for an exam that takes 1 hour. You must score 70 percent to pass. (Sample question: "What toxins are associated with the puffer fish?") If you pass, allow three to five weeks for delivery of Food

Protection Certificate.
    -- Register for sales tax Certificate of Authority
    -- Apply for a Temporary Food Service Establishment Permit. Must bring copies of the previous documents and completed forms to the Consumer Affairs Licensing Center.

Then, at least 21 days before opening your establishment, you must arrange for an inspection with the Health Department's Bureau of Food Safety and Community Sanitation. It takes about three weeks to get your appointment. If you pass, you can set up a business once you:

    -- Buy a portable fire extinguisher from a company certified by the New York Fire Department and set up a contract for waste disposal.
    -- We couldn't finish the process. Had we been able to schedule our health inspection and open my stand legally, it would have taken us 65 days.   

I sold lemonade anyway. I looked dumb hawking it with my giant fire extinguisher on the table.

Tourists told me they couldn't believe that I had to get "all those permits." A Pakistani man said: "That's crazy! You should move to Pakistan!"

But I don't want to move to Pakistan.

Politicians say, "We support entrepreneurs," but the bureaucrats make it hard. The Feds alone add 80,000 pages of new rules every year. Local governments add more. There are so many incomprehensible rules that even the bureaucrats can't tell you what's legal. In the name of public safety, politicians strangle opportunity.

John Stossel's TV Special on America's explosion of laws, "Illegal Everything," will air tonight, Friday, at 9 p.m. EST on Fox News Channel.

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "Give Me a Break" and of "Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity."

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