What to know about Nevada’s new street vendor law

Street food vendor under a rainbow umbrella on Aug. 29, 2023. (Emilia Pablo / The Nevadan / El Nevadense)

By Emilia Pablo

August 29, 2023

“Two corn on the cobs, one shaved ice, and one diced mango covered with lemon and Chamoy.”

That was what a man with two kids ordered from a street vendor at the intersection of North Lamb Boulevard and East Charleston Boulevard, in the heart of East Las Vegas on Sunday afternoon.

The street vendor, Bertin Gonzáles, smiled and quickly prepared the order under a colorful umbrella. The weather was over 100 degrees, but that did not seem to bother Gonzáles. He gladly took one order after another.

Gonzáles is one of the hundreds of street vendors who make a living selling food, fruits, and other products in the streets of The Silver State. Most of these vendors are Latinos and sell their goods without a permit, due to the language barrier and difficult-to-understand bureaucratic web of state and local laws. And for those who are undocumented, fear of providing their information to a government that hasn’t always been hospitable to them also factors in.

Gonzáles, however, is hopeful that his life will change for the better, due to the news that he may be able to request a business license soon.

“I will finally be able to register my business and work even better; hopefully, my business will grow a bit more,” Gonzáles told The Nevadan, El Nevadense.

Gonzáles came to the United States from Puebla, Mexico and is one of the hundreds of street vendors that united with Make The Road Nevada to support Senate Bill 92. State Senator Fabian Doñate sponsored the bill during this year’s legislative session and it was signed into law by Gov. Joe Lombardo in July.

The law authorizes the local boards of health in Clark and Washoe Counties to establish a process for individuals to apply for a permit, license or other authorization to operate as a sidewalk vendor.

The law does not require the counties to create a permitting process, but if they choose not to give vendors the ability to operate legally, the counties forfeit the right to regulate sidewalk vendors and cannot completely prohibit sidewalk vending or impose any criminal penalties on vendors who sell goods in residential areas.

The sponsor of the bill, Doñate, represents Nevada’s 10th Senate District, an area that covers the Harry Reid International Airport and its surroundings. He comes from a family of Culinary Union members. In an interview, he shared his reasons for standing up for street vendors and taking the fight to the Nevada legislature.

“When I was campaigning, my mother was timid to knock on doors,” Doñate said. “I asked why. She said it reminded her of when she had to sell tamales in Las Vegas door to door to make ends meet. That’s when I learned that my grandmother was a tamalera.”

Before the conception of the bill, Doñate also had an opportunity to accompany the local health district on a ride-along in the city. He witnessed mistreatment from the health department workers towards the street vendors.

“I know first-hand that street vendors depend on this income to make ends meet,” he said.

Soon after, Doñate and Make The Road Nevada united in their efforts to pass legislation. They found powerful testimonials in support of the bill and together they made history with the passage of this bill, the first of its kind in Nevada.

While they celebrated the successes, a wave of confusion among Las Vegas street vendors emerged.

Some street vendors misunderstood last month’s signing ceremony and thought it marked the official moment to begin requesting a business license, when in fact, that process will begin next year. Non-profit organizations in Clark County began hearing of scams where street vendors were paying for business licenses that did not exist yet; the guidelines are currently being drafted by Clark county and Las Vegas city officials.

Another set-back took place on August 7, when a street vendor refused to follow a police officer’s order to stop selling his products by the Welcome to Las Vegas sign. According to the law, vendors will not be allowed to sell at that location, nor can they sell within 1,500 feet of a resort hotel, major or minor sports team facilities, on sidewalks or pedestrian walkways near casinos, or near large conventions and state historical landmarks. However, those restrictions won’t formally go into effect locally until Clark County creates an official ordinance, which it must do by October 15.

In response to the incident, which went viral, Make the Road Nevada released a statement explaining where the process of implementing the law stands.

“A task force is being created, consisting of street vendors and people directly impacted. This task force will establish clear regulations, providing clarity to the community. Metro Police Department must build trust with the community, and we at Make The Road Nevada are committed to facilitating this process. Together, we will ensure that the spirit of Senate Bill 92 is realized, reflecting our shared values of fairness, dignity and opportunity for all,” Leo Murrieta, director of Make The Road Nevada said in a press release earlier this month.

The task force is a requirement under the law and will be overseen by Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar’s office.

Aguilar has sent out an invitation to a town hall meeting for August 31 at 5:30 p.m. at 1650 S. Hollywood Blvd. in Las Vegas. Aguilar is also encouraging people to apply to serve on the Task Force on Safe Sidewalk Vendors, which aims to identify challenges and remove unnecessary barriers for street vendors. The Task Force will be made up of nine members, including two street vendors, and other local stakeholders.

Make The Road Nevada is also planning to release 30-second and 60-second TV and radio spots in Spanish-language in the coming weeks, emphasizing the historic moment the bill passed and explaining that it goes into effect in 2024. At that time, the street vendor community — with or without legal documentation — will finally be able to request a business license in Nevada.

The commercial spot will include Gonzáles in action under his bright umbrella — sweating it out, but happy and in love with his job as a street vendor.

  • Emilia Pablo

    Emilia Pablo Bazan is The Nevadan, El Nevadense Political Correspondent. She is an alumna from U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism with over 10 years of experience working in the television news industry. She's also a former speechwriter and press officer for the Obama administration and an Emmy award recipient.

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