Trenton – Acting to help restaurants suffering from the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Senate today approved a bill sponsored by Senator Paul Sarlo, Senator Nellie Pou and Senator Vin Gopal to expand opportunities for restaurants, bars, distilleries, and breweries to operate outdoors until at least November 30, 2022, regardless of when full capacity indoor dining is permitted to resume.
The bill, S-3340, expedited for the vote by the full Senate, is the product of discussions among the Governor’s Office, Assembly sponsors and Senate President Steve Sweeney, who authorized the request to move swiftly on the measure, Senator Sarlo said. The action follows the Governor’s veto of a bill, S-3128, that had the same goal.
“This is important and it is timely,” said Senator Sarlo (D-Bergen/Passaic), who chairs the Senate Budget Committee. “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. They 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.”
The bill would update regulations to allow restaurants, bars, distilleries, and breweries 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 which cannot be rejected if the business is compliant with the provisions of the bill as well as local ordinances related to health, safety, fire, and zoning.
Senator Pou stressed the importance of 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 Senator Pou (D-Passaic). “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.”
“In these extraordinary days, extraordinary provisions must be made in order to maintain our state’s economic stability, and especially the stability of our locally-owned businesses, including restaurants, bars, distilleries or breweries,” said Senator Gopal. “This bill will give them the needed flexibility they may require to continue serving their patrons during these difficult and challenging times.”
Senator Sarlo said that the limited openings in past months proved to be safe and effective but they now need to be expanded with a guarantee that they can operate outdoors for the next two years.
“Many businesses have benefited from the expanded outdoor dining opportunities,” said Senator Sarlo. “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 November 30, 2022.”
The Senate vote was 34-0.