North Jersey Legislators Urge State To Ease Reopening Process For Restaurants, Bars

Legislators from North Jersey are calling on the state to make the process easier for restaurants to re-open following a three-month shutdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Under Gov. Phil Murphy’s Executive Order No. 150, restaurants, bars and other food or beverage establishments can reopen for outdoor, sit-down service on June 15.

In anticipation of those openings, many towns across New Jersey began shutting down local roads to help create space for restaurants to provide outdoor accommodations or asking the state for permission to close county or state roads.

Morristown Issues

In downtown Morristown, where South Street is home to numerous restaurants, bars and shops, Mayor Tim Dougherty sought approval to partially close the state road, but his request was rejected by the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT).

Following the denial, State Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-25) urged the state to reconsider, saying he doesn’t believe the state’s decision was in line with “the spirit of partnership that Governor Murphy promised to help our restaurants and downtown communities survive this crisis.”

In a June 9 letter to NJDOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, the senator wrote, “The thousands of restaurants at the heart of our downtowns and the nearly 350,000 workers they would normally employ have been hit especially hard by these restrictions. Many of those establishments have warned that they will go out of business permanently if they are not permitted to resume regular operations imminently.”

Besides asking the NJDOT to give a second look at the plan, Bucco requested “an explanation detailing the Department’s analysis for sustaining its denial” and “any proposed alternatives the Department could offer to meet the needs of South Street businesses.”

Rooney: Waive Fees

A pair of Republican lawmakers believe it’s unfair to ask restaurants and bars to pay for permits to serve alcohol outside and are asking the state division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) to waive the fee.

As part of the reopening plan, the state ABC is charging $75 for a COVID-19 Expansion Permit that allows establishments to move services onto areas adjacent to or contiguous to their licensed premises. The special, one-time permits, which are aimed at offsetting the economic impact of reduced seating capacity, will run from June 15 to Nov. 30, according to the ABC.

In a June 8 press release, Assemblyman Kevin Rooney (R-40) said, “Every dollar is crucial to stay afloat” and waiving the permit fees could help “give these establishments a fighting chance to survive in this new economy.”

Assemblyman John DiMaio (R-23) called it “absolutely insane” to require an additional permit for restaurants and bars “while limiting the number of customers they can accommodate.”

DiMaio added that he doesn’t believe businesses “should have to fork over more money just so they can keep up with Governor Murphy’s executive orders” and called it “an easy money grab on many establishments just trying to survive legally in New Jersey.”

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