Legislation to Expand Liquor and Outdoor Dining Regulations Amid COVID-19 Pandemic Clears Senate
Trenton – To help restaurants, bars, breweries and distilleries continue to operate in the face of devastating hardships placed on them due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Senate approved legislation to help these businesses stay afloat in the coming months.
The bill, S-3128, sponsored by Senators Nellie Pou, Paul Sarlo and Nilsa Cruz-Perez, would expand opportunities for restaurants, bars, and breweries to provide outdoor dining, including serving alcohol if so licensed, for a two-year period.
“While the expansion of outdoor dining has been beneficial for restaurants and bars in recent months, many businesses have been hindered in operating in outdoor spaces due to restrictive zoning ordinances imposed by certain municipalities,” said Senator Pou (D-Passaic/Bergen). “Additionally, these businesses face a great deal of uncertainty over the continued extension of the COVID-19 Expansion of Premises Permit that has allowed businesses to serve alcohol outside to customers on a temporary basis. This bill would alleviate any ambiguity by establishing a standardized application process for establishments seeking to utilize outdoor spaces.”
Under the bill, establishments would be able to utilize outdoor spaces on their own property, such as covered and uncovered patios and decks, yards, walkways and parking lots as well as public sidewalks adjacent to their business for both food and alcohol consumption without having to apply to local land use boards or the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The only requirement is that the business must file an application with the local zoning officer — who must approve the application within 15 days if it is compliant with the guidelines established in the legislation.
Additionally, the bill allows, with permit, the sale at farm markets of products made by a brewery, craft distillery, winery or meadery.
“Restaurants, bars, and breweries have experienced significant business loss due to the prolonged closure of non-essential business that was implemented last spring as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Senator Sarlo (D-Bergen/Passaic), who chairs the Senate Budget Committee. “While indoor dining was permitted to reopen at 25 percent capacity in September, many businesses have greatly benefited from the current expanded outdoor dining opportunities.
“In order to further help our dining establishments remain profitable in the coming months, we must reduce burdensome red tape to ensure they can continue to serve their customers outdoors. We also must provide them with the certainty of a guaranteed two-year operating period so that they can justify the investment in tents and heaters which are very costly,” added Sarlo.
“Few industries in New Jersey have been hit as hard economically during the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing health-related restrictions caused by it than our dining, nightclub and entertainment-related industries,” said Cruz-Perez (D-Camden/Gloucester). “We must continue to do everything we can to help these establishments and their workers weather the worst of this economic storm.”
The bill passed the Senate by a vote 39-0.