Outdoor Dining

New Jersey Senate Passes New Bill to Help Restaurants After Gov. Phil Murphy Veto

The State Senate unanimously passed legislation Jan. 11 to address Gov. Phil Murphy’s veto of bill to help struggling restaurants and bars survive during the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is important and it is timely,” said State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-36), who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, in a press statement. “Restaurants, bars, distilleries and breweries have experienced significant business losses because of the coronavirus crisis, the resulting shutdowns and reduced capacities. The months ahead will be pivotal for their survival.” 

The bill would update regulations to allow these businesses to utilize covered and uncovered patios and decks, yards, walkways, parking lots and public sidewalks for both food and alcohol consumption. Business operators would have to file an application with the municipal zoning officer in compliance with local health, safety, fire, and zoning ordinances.

Two Year Plan

“(Businesses) need to know that they are permitted to operate outdoors for the next two years so that they can invest in purchasing fixtures such as tents and umbrellas necessary for outdoor dining,” said Sarlo. “Many businesses have benefited from the expanded outdoor dining opportunities. We have to expand upon these regulations and give them more chances to serve their patrons and give them the certainty that they can operate outside until Nov. 30, 2022.”

State Sen. Anthony M. Bucco (R-25) had called for an override of Murphy’s veto.

“Throughout the COVID emergency, the Governor has continued to ignore the legislative branch and instead govern the state like an Emperor through executive orders,” said Bucco (R-25), who noted the original bill had passed both the State Senate and Assembly unanimously. “All across the state, restaurants are closing at an alarming rate, and it has been Governor Murphy’s overly broad restrictions that put them out of business.” 

Murphy’s Explanation

Murphy said he vetoed the bill due to it encroaching on the authority of both the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) and municipal governments to protect the public’s health and safety.  

“Bars and restaurants are among the businesses hardest hit by the pandemic,” wrote Murphy in his veto. “However, in seeking to deliver a degree of relief to these businesses, the bill circumvents existing licensing and regulation processes critical to protecting the public’s health and safety. “

The governor cited the process outlined in the bill for expanding into outdoor spaces would divest the ABC of the enforcement authority it shares with municipalities, and transfers review and oversight exclusively to local governments. At the same time, the bill would significantly limit a municipality’s review by requiring approval of all applications that contain the requisite information. 

Regulation Issues

Additionally, Murphy believed the bill would restrict a municipality’s ability to regulate the hours of operation of restaurants and bars in contravention of his executive order which empowers local government to limit the hours of operation of non-essential businesses based on COVID-19 public health concerns. 

“This would have immediate consequences, as the City of Newark currently limits outdoor dining after 9:00 p.m., pursuant to an executive order by Mayor Ras Baraka,” noted the governor. “Signing this bill into law would immediately overturn these restrictions and disrupt Newark’s plan to combat COVID-19.”

Consistent Standards

State Sen. Nellie Pou (D-35) stressed the importance in the new bill alleviating any ambiguity by establishing a standardized application process and operating standards for restaurants to utilize outdoor spaces.

“This is a responsible way to help restaurants, bars, distilleries, and breweries that have experienced significant losses so they can generate enough economic activity to survive this crisis,” said Pou. “It is important that we establish consistent standards that provide predictability. We have to try to do right by local businesses so they can maintain their place in their home communities.”

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