Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday vetoed a bill aimed at expanding outdoor dining opportunities, citing issues with regulation circumvention.
Assembly Bill No. 4525 would permit owners and operators of restaurants, bars, distilleries and breweries to utilize outdoor spaces or public sidewalks as extensions of their business premises. It was sponsored by assemblymen Roy Freiman (D-16), Vince Mazzeo (D-2), Anthony Verrelli (D-2), Eric Houghtaling (D-11) and senators Nellie Pou (D-35), Paul Sarlo (D-36) and Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-5).
According to a statement from the governor, it was rejected due to licensing complications.
"I commend the bill’s sponsors for their efforts to assist New Jersey’s businesses and farms in finding creative ways to continue to operate during the COVID-19 emergency," Murphy said. "Bars and restaurants are among the businesses hardest hit by the pandemic. Small producers and retailers of alcoholic beverages also have not been immune from the devastating impacts of the crisis. 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."
One example Murphy gave was that the expansion process would divest the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control of the enforcement authority it concurrently shared with municipalities, and transfers review and oversight exclusively to local governments. Additionally, it would "significantly" limit a municipality’s review by requiring approval of all applications that contain the requisite information. As a result, municipalities would have almost no ability to reject an application based on public health or safety concerns, such as a proposed expanded area’s proximity to a school or church, or a licensee’s previous violations of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act.
The governor added that the ABC and Department of Community Affairs have already taken proactive measures to respond to issues identified in the bill.
"On June 3, 2020, the Director of the ABC issued Special Ruling 2020-10, which allows businesses to apply for a new “COVID-19 Expansion of Premises Permit,” which enables licensees and permittees to expand their licensed premises into outdoor areas," he said. "On October 19, 2020, the ABC Director issued Special Ruling 2020-21, which extended the new permitting program until at least March 31, 2021. ABC has issued over 2,300 permits since June 2020. Importantly, the program maintains the concurrent enforcement authority between ABC and local governments."
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