Governor Murphy Vetoes Bi-Partisan Bill That Could Have Saved Some Restaurants This Year

TRENTON, NJ –  Governor Phil Murphy today took another swing of his small business hatchet and swung it at the restaurant industry.   The bill would have allowed restaurants across the state to continue serving patrons in outdoor settings allowed this past summer, in parking lots and street sidewalks, working with their towns, cutting out a lot of the red tape required to do so.  The bill also sought to wave state fees on such outdoor facilities.

The bill was met with criticism by the state, saying it will negatively impact the state’s revenues from the restaurant industry.

” The bill appears to preempt the division from charging the $75 application fee, as well as the $10 renewal.  As a result, the OLS concludes that the bill’s impact would result in an indeterminate reduction in revenues for the State,” the Governor’s Office of Legislative Services said during the legislative process, objecting because it would have lost $23,000 in $10 permit fees by those businesses who were to seek renewals of the existing outdoor dining setting.

Many restaurants have since closed their outdoor dining areas as winter set in but would have to now reapply in April if the Governor extends the outdoor dining facility order beyond its current end date of March 31st.

The OLS took issue with that, because they would lose even more money from the struggling restaurant owners that let their permit lapse for the winter.

“According to the Special Ruling, if a permit holder fails to renew their license they must cease alcohol sales in the permitted area and apply for a new permit before resuming sales in that area – which the OLS believes to mean that a $75 fee would be required, in accordance with Special Ruling 2020-10,” OLS said.

The bill passed but died on the Governor’s desk.

“I applaud the sponsors for their efforts to assist New Jersey businesses that are struggling during this critical time,” Murphy said. “However, because aspects of the bill encroach on the authority of both the ABC and municipal governments to protect the public’s health and safety, and because many of the bill’s goals have already been achieved, I am unable to support it.”

It’s not the first time Murphy took action against legislation that would help the struggling restaurant industry.

In October, Murphy vetoed a bill that would have set aside $30,000,000 in federal funds to help businesses negatively impacted by his spring “False Start” when he reopened indoor dining, then withdrew days before his July 2nd reopening.  Restaurants would not open for indoor dining again until September, leaving many with spoiled overstock ahead of the Fourth of July weekend.

The bill would allow the owners and operators of restaurants, bars, and breweries to use outdoor spaces which they own or lease and which are located on, or adjacent to, their business premises, as an extension of their business premises for the purpose of conducting sales of food and beverages, including alcoholic beverages if so licensed.  The bill defines “outdoor spaces” as including patios and decks, both covered and uncovered, yards, walkways, and parking lots, or a portion thereof.  The bill would also allow the owners and operators of restaurants, bars, and breweries, to use public sidewalks, as defined in the bill, as an extension of their business premises for that purpose, as well.

 The bill requires owners and operators of restaurants, bars, and breweries seeking to utilize outdoor spaces or public sidewalks as extensions of their business premises pursuant to the provisions of the bill to file an application with the municipal zoning officer, including information concerning the use of the outdoor spaces or public sidewalks, as appropriate.  The zoning officer is required to approve an application that is compliant with the bill’s provisions within 10 business days of the submission of the application.  The bill also prohibits municipalities from charging fees for the filing of the application or issuing the approval.

Under the bill, a municipality may require an applicant to provide one or more of the following: (1) written consent of the owner of the premises, if other than the applicant; (2) an insurance certificate naming the municipality as an additional insured, with general liability on an occurrence with a limit of liability of at least $1,000,000, with respect to losses arising solely from the operation of the outdoor dining facility; or (3) an indemnification agreement with the municipality with respect to losses arising solely from the operation of the outdoor dining facility.

Restaurants, bars, or breweries operating under the provisions of the bill are required to follow, maintain, and enforce protocols promulgated by the Commissioner of Health or the Governor in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, concerning social distancing and use of personal protective equipment during the period those protocols are in effect. The bill also provides for the operation of “bring your own bottle” privileges in applicable outdoor spaces and on public sidewalks.

The bill also permits municipalities to control the days and hours of certain activities, including the outdoor service of food and beverages, including alcoholic beverages if so licensed, and live performances, as well as to deny, revoke, or suspend, the outdoor dining activity of any establishment that violates the provisions of the bill.