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05/30/2024 09:25 AM
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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: September 30, 2020 08:43 AM
From: Senator Kim L. Ward
To: All Senate members
Subject: Temporarily Halting License Suspensions of Restaurant & Bars
I am introducing legislation to halt all licensing suspensions for restaurants and bars during this COVID-19 emergency disaster declaration.
These small business owners and their employees are being unfairly and specifically targeted during this pandemic.  Unlike any other business in the Commonwealth which can operate at either 100% or 50% of capacity with social distancing – including indoor recreation and entertainment facilities – our restaurants and bars continue to be placed at a higher disadvantage by the Governor.  With the inability to use bar seating, many establishments have not ever been able to operate at the 25% capacity they have been allowed or will at the 50% they can currently.  Additional social distancing guidelines can reduce their seating even further.
Licensing provisions and enforcement have been eased during this pandemic for a multitude of other businesses and professions while the restaurant and bar industry has seen the Commonwealth use licensing as a bully club against it.   An establishment in my district just had its liquor license suspended when enforcement determined they were in violation of the Governor’s COVID-19 restaurant guidelines, and they were prohibited from selling any food which forced it to close their doors entirely for two weeks and put its employees out of work. 
The Governor has used inconclusive and insignificant data collected through contact tracing to defend his protracted assault on our restaurant and bar workers.  He cites 13 percent of 12,234 COVID-19 positive individuals said they had gone to a business establishment in the 14 days prior to the onset of symptoms. Of that 13 percent, 47 percent indicated they went to a restaurant and 24 percent indicated they went to a bar. 
How insignificant is this data?  Out of 12,234 people, only 747 people who ultimately tested positive for COVID-19 visited a restaurant in some way during a period of time when it is not actually know whether they were infectious with COVID-19 or not.  Only 382 people did the same in visiting a bar.  The data does not indicate if an individual was counted within both numbers.
How inconclusive is this data?  It provides absolutely no evidence anyone who went to a restaurant or a bar became positive from the visit.  It fails to take into account whether social distancing was practiced when they were within the restaurant or bar.  The data also doesn’t specify whether the person had any close contact within the establishment that would put them or others at an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19.  It also doesn't tell us whether the person visited a restaurant via drive-thru or take out or got a drink to-go from a bar. 
Yet there is significant and conclusive data to prove the devastating effects the Governor’s harmful targeting of this one industry has done and will continue to do if left unchecked.  A study conducted by personal finance company WalletHub ranks Pennsylvania as the third most restrictive state in the country when it comes to restaurant reopening, behind California and New Jersey.  The National Restaurant Association has found that 91% of Pennsylvania operators have laid off or furloughed employees, equaling over 332,000 jobs lost since March.  A survey conducted by the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association shows 63% of restaurant operators say it’s unlikely they will be in business in less than six months under the current levels. 
Restaurant and bar owners are certainly willing to do their part to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. These small business owners have invested in expensive licenses as part of doing business and with no guarantee they will turn a profit, even in the best of times.   They should not be subject to arbitrary rule changes and costly penalties that further jeopardize their ability to keep their doors open and save jobs. It is time to stop the Governor from targeting this industry and making them scapegoats for the spread of the coronavirus.   

Introduced as SB1347