Restaurants and other small businesses throughout the state are struggling to stay open while balancing COVID-19 health concerns. In an effort to assist Main Street businesses while protecting employees and customers, several Assembly Democrats sponsor a legislative package to waive fees, create uniformity for food establishments and study the effects of the pandemic. The measures were all unanimously passed by the full Assembly Monday.
“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,” said Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D-Camden, Burlington). “We know Main Street businesses are the backbone of our economy. Providing a reliable and clear path forward will help small businesses, particularly within the food and hospitality industry which has been one of the hardest hit industries in the state, stay in business both during and beyond this pandemic.”
One bill in the package (A-5133) sponsored by Assemblymen Greenwald, Nicholas Chiaravalloti and Daniel Benson would allow food and beverage establishments, as well as banquet and wedding venues, to operate at a specific capacity indoors, depending on the COVID-19 activity level in their region and whether they certify that safety measures have been met.
“There is no doubt that our restaurants and food establishments have been hit hard by the pandemic,” said Assemblyman Chiaravalloti (D-Hudson). “If we want the businesses we all know and love to remain open, we must find solutions to the unique challenges they are facing. This legislation helps provide the stability they need to plan ahead when it comes to serving patrons during this difficult time.”
“The economic devastation of this pandemic is unlike anything we have seen in decades,” said Assemblyman Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “Far too many mom-and-pop establishments, many whose life savings are invested in their place, have been devastated by the challenges this crisis has posed. We must address their needs if these businesses and their local employees are to continue.”
Another measure (A-5136) sponsored by Assemblymen Greenwald, Gordon Johnson and Chiaravalloti would help ensure patron safety while helping restaurants fill the permitted number of seats by allowing the use of physical barriers between seating areas if six feet of distance is not possible.
“Around 17 percent of restaurants throughout the country have already closed since the start of the pandemic, while nearly 40 percent of New Jersey restaurants may have to close within the next six months due to financial challenges posed by COVID-19,” said Assemblyman Johnson (D-Bergen). “We must do everything we can to prevent that from happening by giving restaurants the ability to safely continue serving customers.”
With many restaurants offering outdoor seating to make up for reduced indoor seating capacity, the package also aims to address various aspects of these outdoor operations. Two pieces of legislation address the safety of outdoor structures restaurants have erected to shield guests from the elements.
A-5135, sponsored by Assemblymen Greenwald, Robert Karabinchak and Johnson creates statewide standards for the use of tents and heaters, such as ensuring material is fire-retardant, heaters are kept away from combustible material, and entrances/exits to the tent are clearly marked.
“It is critical we give our restaurants the ability to adapt to these unusual circumstances while safeguarding the well-being of customers when it comes to the implementation of possible alternatives,” said Assemblyman Karabinchak (D-Middlesex). “Establishing simple safety standards will help prevent dangerous outcomes and ensure an enjoyable time for residents who visit their favorite eateries.”
A-5139, sponsored by Assemblymen Roy Freiman, Greenwald, Johnson and Chiaravalloti addresses aspects of tents and other seasonal coverings, such as anchoring and snow accumulation.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, restaurants have relied on outdoor dining in order to keep their businesses afloat and it is imperative that they are able to continue to do so during the winter months,” said Assemblyman Freiman (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon). “This bill sets up guidelines that allow restaurants to skip the burdensome and time-consuming permit process related to snow safety so they can continue to run their businesses as smoothly as possible.”
Each of the measures now head to the Senate.