The state Assembly moved four bills forward that would loosen some of the capacity restrictions on restaurants, bars and other eateries, at a time when Gov. Phil Murphy has shown extreme reluctance for more reopenings amid recent COVID-19 surges.
None of the proposals would overturn any of the orders Murphy enacted on restaurants, but rather, scale some of them back.
“The aim of this legislation is to help Main Streets throughout New Jersey survive and ultimately thrive again, by offering a degree of stability while ensuring the safety of staff and patrons,” Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, D-6th District, said in a March 25 statement.
Proponents contend that the measures would give a greater degree of flexibility to the owners of bars, restaurants, distilleries and other eateries, especially as the widely popular outdoor dining options witnessed over the summer remain useless amid the cold winter weather.
“It’s going to allow us more capacity, more opportunity… to increase our operations,” Marilou Halvorsen, now-outgoing president of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, told lawmakers in January.
“Many of the requirements inside the bill, restaurants are already doing to ensure the safety and welfare of their employees and guests,” she continued.
Restaurants can now operate at 50% capacity indoors, but state health officials are urging patrons to take advantage of the warmer weather by opting to dine outdoors where the virus is less transmissible.
“My guess is we won’t be opening further capacities for some time now because of the caseload,” the governor said this week. “We want to do this safely, we don’t ever want to have to go back.”
One measure, Assembly Bill 5133, allows food and beverage establishments to operate at either 50% or 100% capacity indoors, depending on the spread of COVID-19 in that particular region.
That was approved in a 72-0 vote at the Assembly, and was introduced to the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee on Jan. 21, where it hasn’t moved forward.
Although Murphy has allowed for regional reopenings with schools and more recently senior center visitation, he’s not extended that same openness to business reopenings and instead opted for statewide restrictions or reopenings.
Assembly Bill 5135 codifies the standards put out by the Murphy administration for how restaurants can provide heating and tents in order to offer outdoor dining during the cold winter months and into the early spring,
Those standards have to do with ensuring the structures are fire-resistant, that exits and entrances are clearly marked, and that social distancing is adhered to.
The bill passed by 73-0 Assembly vote and was introduced to the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee on Jan. 7, where it hasn’t moved since.
And a similar measure, Assembly Bill 5139, codifies standards from the governor’s office for how outdoor dining structures like tents can operate, and how they need to account for the weight of snow on their roofs and the structural integrity of the tents.
That was approved in a 72-0 Assembly vote and was introduced to the Senate Commerce Committee on Jan. 11, where it hasn’t moved since.
Assembly Bill 5136 would let restaurants seat tables closer than six feet apart if they are separated by plexiglass – something currently allowed under an executive order Murphy signed in November. It was approved in a 72-0 Assembly vote and was introduced to the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee on Jan. 21.