VITAL POLICY – Tennessee and Jefferson County’s Constitutional Dilemma with Food Truck Regulations

Interview with Meagan Forbes, Legislative Counsel - Institute for Justice

Local Regulations

Two of Jefferson County’s five municipalities regulate the operation of food trucks, White Pine and Dandridge; Jefferson City, New Market, and Baneberry do not. The regulations and fees that Dandridge impose on food trucks are centered around health and safety; but the White Pine regulations exceed health and safety by regulating the number of days that food trucks can operate under various permit options, calling into question the constitutionality of the ordinance. Both Dandridge and White Pine permit no more than two food truck vendors per property, traffic hazards and fire truck access being controlling factors.

Local food truck operators observe that business traffic increases, along with profitability, when multiple food trucks locate in a “food court” arrangement, citing food variety as a drawing card for potential customers. They also suggest that certain parcels of property may be suitable for more than two food trucks at a time, which they contend should be a consideration when ordinances are updated by local policy makers.

White Pine

Mayor Fred Taylor of White Pine stated that city food truck regulations are under review. Currently the city restricts the operation of food trucks to “a 12-hour period within a seven consecutive day period” on a $100 annual permit. A 48-hour permit is also available. Discussion of possible revisions include multiple options that may extend the number of days that food trucks could operate on a permit. Taylor indicated that food trucks provide a valuable service to the city and that multiple factors will be considered when updated regulations are finalized. Those factors include long-term city tax revenue and the impact of food trucks on the existing brick and mortar restaurants, among others.

Legal Parameters

Legal experts contend that food truck regulations grounded on public health and safety are constitutional and have a role to play in protecting the public interest; but regulations that exceed health and safety infringe on economic liberty and the right of a person to make a living. State laws, local regulations, and court decisions on food trucks seem to be in a state of disorder.

According to Institute for Justice Attorney Meagan Forbes, states should enact laws that create a uniform standard for their political subdivisions to regulate food trucks, all within the constitutional boundaries of equal protection. Forbes states as follows.

Food trucks have long been important vehicles for entrepreneurship and economic growth. Unfortunately, Tennessee’s multi-tiered approach to permitting food trucks at the state and local level is making it very difficult for food trucks to operate and succeed. Some local governments are also attempting to regulate food trucks out of existence. We’ve seen cities limiting food trucks’ operations to only certain days, charging debilitating fees, and preventing food trucks from operating in certain areas.  These anticompetitive regulations are not designed to protect public safety and are often being put in place under the mistaken belief that cities are protecting brick-and-mortar restaurants. The Constitution protects the right to earn a living, and it is impermissible for local governments to pick winners and losers.  The General Assembly should create a statewide permit for food trucks and prevent local governments from arbitrarily restricting food trucks’ economic freedom.”

Meagan Forbes, Legislative Counsel – Institute for Justice

Meagan Forbes, Legislative Counsel – Institute for Justice

Meagan Forbes serves as legislative counsel at the Institute for Justice and advocates for legislative reform across the country in the areas of economic liberty, free speech, property rights and other civil liberties. She is based in the Institute for Justice’s Minnesota office.

Forbes contribution to this article is greatly appreciated, as are the contributions of White Pine Mayor Fred Taylor, Alderman Jeff Depew of Dandridge, and food certain truck owners.

Source: David Seal is a retired Jefferson County educator, recognized artist, local businessman, and current Chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party. He has also served Jefferson County as a County Commissioner and is a lobbyist for the people on issues such as eminent domain, property rights, education, and broadband accessibility on the state level. Feature Photo By Paul Sableman - Flickr: Taco Truck, CC BY 2.0,