Nearly two weeks after vetoing a widely popular bill to expand the sale of home-cooked foods, Gov. Katie Hobbs still won’t say what she wants changed in order to get her to sign a new version.
Hobbs on Monday dodged repeated inquiries about the legislation or her veto despite the fact that it had been approved by broad bipartisan majorities. In fact, she would not answer any questions at all after giving a 2 1/2 minute speech at an annual ceremony to honor fallen officers of the Department of Public Safety before being driven off by her DPS security detail.
And so far, the governor and her newly hired press aide have refused to address bipartisan complaints about what some saw as a racist tinge in her veto message: She wrote that allowing what has become known as the “tamale bill” to become law would open the door to items being cooked in home kitchens with “rodent or insect infestation.”
In her April 18 veto of HB 2509, the governor said that allowing certain cooked foods to be prepared by individuals and sold to the public would “significantly increase the risk of food-borne illness” by allowing what are called “cottage food vendors” to sell “high-risk foods.”
As Democrats who supported the original bill began talking override, several said they heard from the governor’s office that she would be willing to sign a revised version. And that was enough to convince 12 House Democrats who had voted for the measure to change their votes, uphold the veto — and keep Hobbs from being the first governor since 1981 to have her decision overridden.
But supporters of the measure as originally approved questioned the need for further alternations.
They noted that Arizona has had laws for more than a decade that allow for the sale of some home-prepared items like cookies and cakes as long as they are not made from items that can spoil.
More to the point, HB 2509 was not simply an expansion to allow people to legally sell cooked items like the tamales, tortillas and pupusas, items already widely available, albeit illegally, in parking lots and in front of stores. It actually contained a host of new provisions.
For example, the legislation included a new requirement for those doing home preparation to register with the Department of Health Services and complete a food handler training course from an accredited program and maintain active certification.
Also new, any items offered for sale would have to be labeled with not just the name and registration number of the preparer but also a list of ingredients and the production date. There also would need to be a statement on the label that it was prepared in a home kitchen “not subject to public health inspection.”
Items containing fish or shellfish were strictly forbidden for home preparation.
And there even were restrictions on delivering items like maintaining temperature, allowing items to be transported only once and never for longer than two hours.
On Monday, however, Hobbs still would not provide specifics. About the only thing that press aide Christian Slater has said is that his boss was not asking for unannounced inspections.
That, however, still leaves a host of other possibilities.
Senate Minority Leader Mitzi Epstein, who opposed the original bill and refused to vote to override the governor’s veto, has floated the idea of some sort of limit on these home sales, whether by total volume or on a seasonal basis.
“We need to make sure that the bill is crafted to address these very small home sells,” the Democratic Tempe lawmaker said. “Largely, I’m hearing of people who do it seasonally. maybe around Christmas time or maybe they do it around another holiday or something, so that really is small scale.”
But Rep. Alma Hernandez, D-Tucson, one of the big supporters of the unsuccessful override attempt, made it clear she saw no reason to impose what she sees as artificial limits.
“That lady you bought tamales on, whatever corner you were on in Phoenix, she is not selling the tamales for fun,” Hernandez said. “I guarantee you, she is selling the tamales to make an honest living and be able to provide for her family.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, the sponsor of the original legislation, told Capitol Media Services on Monday he has yet to hear from the governor’s office what changes would make his measure acceptable to Hobbs.
The dispute is not just over what was in the original legislation, what the governor may demand to get her signature on a revised version, and whether those changes will get the necessary votes.
Hobbs angered several lawmakers with her verbiage in the veto message about “rodent or insect infestation.”
“That is offensive,” Hernandez said. “And I would be glad to put up my nana’s kitchen or my mom’s kitchen up against anyone’s kitchen.”
Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, whose mother and grandmother are Mexican immigrants, took it a step farther.
“Not only was the veto outrageous, but to continue to push racist tropes of homes riddled with insect infestation or rodent infestation, it will just not be tolerated in the year 2023,” he said.
Neither the governor nor Slater would address that language or the bipartisan reaction.