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 use outdoor spaces or public sidewalks as extensions of their business premises. Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, was among its sponsors.
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.”
Murphy said the expansion process would divest the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control of the enforcement authority it shares with municipalities, transferring 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. The two agencies last spring allowed businesses to apply for a new “COVID-19 Expansion of Premises Permit,” enabling licensees and permittees to expand their licensed premises into outdoor areas, he said. In October, a special ruling extended the new permitting program until at least March. ABC has issued more than 2,300 such permits since June, he said.
In other government action, Murphy on Tuesday signed legislation intended to relieve businesses of a portion of their unemployment tax obligation during the pandemic.
The law will reduce the amount of unemployment taxes employers individually owe and delay a significant increase in the Unemployment Trust Fund Reserve Ratio, according to a news release. It excludes the cost of unemployment benefits paid to employees when calculating the employer’s Reserve Ratio. Mazzeo was among its sponsors.
“Not since the Great Depression has our country faced an economic crisis like the one we are seeing today,” said Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli, another sponsor. “After all they’ve endured, businesses need relief so that they can keep employees on the payroll and rise to meet any future challenges brought on by coronavirus. This law will provide critical tax relief to employers as they continue on the long road to recovery.”