Food Truck Freedom Rolls on in New Orleans

The New Orleans City Council unanimously approved liberalizing the city’s food truck regulations.  These modernizations represent the first major overhaul of New Orleans’ street vending laws since 1956.

Before these reforms were passed, food trucks were banned from selling within 600 feet of a brick-and-mortar restaurant.  Now trucks can park in any area zoned for commercial, industrial, or mixed use.

Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson proposed a last-ditch effort to keep food trucks 100 feet away from brick-and-mortars, arguing the restaurant industry deserved “economic protection” by the government.  But as The Advocate reports, “she withdrew the amendment after failing to find a colleague on the council sympathetic enough to second her motion and send it to a vote.”  But even Councilwoman Clarkson voted for the final ordinance.

Meanwhile, mobile entrepreneurs need to obtain franchise approval by the city council before operating in other areas like the Central Business District, residential neighborhoods, and some business corridors.  Food trucks are still prohibited in the French Quarter, on the grounds that the streets there are too narrow to accommodate street food fans.

In addition, food trucks can now vend in one spot for up to four hours, a major improvement over the previous limit of just 45 minutes.  Plus, the ordinance creates 100 vending permits specifically for food trucks.  Beforehand, the city had a cap on 100 permits for mobile food vendors, which included not just food trucks, but fruit, vegetable, and nut sellers, as well as seafood peddlers.

Back in April, the city council passed a compromise street food ordinance that would have reformed the Crescent City’s vending laws, but maintained a 200-foot proximity ban.  However, Mayor Mitch Landrieu vetoed that ordinance, arguing that any ban would be unconstitutional and not survive a legal challenge (by say, a merry band of litigators).  Instead, the Mayor proposed his own alternative reforms, which with a few adjustments, became the ordinance that was just passed by the council.

But this isn’t just a big victory for food trucks and the consumers who love them.  The fact that vendors prevailed over entrenched special interests in New Orleans is significant, since the Crescent City has had a long historyof hostilitytowardsfree enterprise.  In fact, New Orleans was home to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that largely removed economic liberty protections from the Constitution.  In the Slaughter-House cases, Louisiana butchers challenged a law that created a state-chartered monopoly on the sale and slaughter of animals in New Orleans.  The law did not prevent the butchers from working, but required them to do so in a slaughterhouse operated by a single company to which they were required to pay fees.  The butchers argued that the right to earn a living in the occupation of their choice free from unreasonable and anti-competitive government regulations was protected by the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment.

But in a divisive 5-4 decision, the Court held that that monopoly was constitutional.  Not only that, the Court greatly limited the scope of the Privileges or Immunities clause, which had been enacted in part to protect freedmen from “black codes” passed by former Confederate states.

Yet now there is a growing consensus that the government should not be in the business of protecting businesses from competition.  Next term, the U.S. Supreme Court may hear an economic protectionism case. Now that the hometown of Slaughter-House has just sided with economic liberty, let’s hope the Court protects the right to earn an honest living nationwide.

— Nick Sibilla
Nick Sibilla is a writer at the Institute for Justice

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