Following a controversial state ban on bake sales in schools, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a budget amendment Wednesday that would allow individual cities and towns to decide whether they wish to prevent the sale of sweets during the school day.
The state Department of Public Health regulations set to take effect on Aug. 1 would prevent the sale of several foods and drinks, including cupcakes, cookies, and brownies in schools within 30 minutes of the start and end of classes.
But state Representative Brad Hill, Republican of Ipswich, sponsored a budget rider that passed the House Wednesday and would give individual school districts the choice to follow or ignore those regulations. The measure will go to the Senate on Thursday, Hill said.
“The amendment is saying that instead of the Department of Public Health telling a school when they can have and not have a bake sale during school hours, that the school district itself can decide,’’ Hill said Wednesday night.
The lawmaker said the amendment would not prevent the regulation of sweets in school cafeterias and vending machines that the nutrition law also calls for.
State nutrition officials expressed disappointment about Wednesday’s amendment.
“What message are we sending - if a kid wants to buy a candy bar, let him go to a 7-Eleven,’’ said Gail Koutroubas, president of the School Nutrition Association of Massachusetts. “Do we have to, as a school district or a community, allow them to purchase it at the school so we can support the track team?’’
The ban drew ire earlier this week from several critics who said it would hamper the work of local parent organizations and school clubs.
State Representative Cory Atkins, Democrat of Concord, who spoke in support of the amendment Wednesday, said the bakery ban seemed “to go way too far.’’
“I just spoke very briefly and said, ‘I think we’ll hear from every parent-teacher organization,’ ’’ Atkins said Wednesday night. “I didn’t say this on the floor, but what are they going to sell, carrot sticks?’’
Maddie Ribble, director of policy and communications for the Massachusetts Public Health Association, said there are 101 ways that school organizations can raise money without selling unhealthy foods, including selling T-shirts or hosting a walk-a-thon.
Koutroubas said the nutrition regulations were the result of an effort to promote healthful foods in schools and to counter rising obesity rates in Massachusetts.
But Atkins maintained that school bake sales are not the cause of youth obesity.
“It just seems to go way too far,’’ she said. “First of all, my generation grew up without the obesity problems, and we had all these bake sales.’’
Though school districts will still have the opportunity, under the amendment, to implement the regulations, Koutroubas said parent organizations will probably put pressure on “superintendents and school boards to make decisions that they might not have otherwise made.’’
“The reality is that the school boards are voted in by the parents,’’ Koutroubas said. “So what else can I say on that?’’