Monmouth and Ocean County restaurants, bars, wedding venues could see capacity boost if legislation passes
We are a year plus into the Covid-19 pandemic and certainly have more answers than we had a year ago at this time but for many restaurants and small businesses, that's not the case.
They are looking for answers to the questions of when can they expand capacity, what restrictions will be in place as they prepare for the summer of 2021 and so on.
In an effort to expedite the process and navigate through the uncertainty of state restrictions, Ocean County 10th District State Senator Jim Holzapfel and Assemblymen Greg McGuckin and John Catalano are co-sponsoring a series of bills, approved by the Assembly, to help these restaurants stay open and bounce back.
This package of bills (introduced in 2020) include legislation which would allow banquet and wedding venues to operate at a specific capacity indoors (A-5133), ease restrictions on the use of tents (A-5139), create standards for the use of heaters and tents for outdoor dining during the winter months (A-5135) and a bill (A-5136) that provides flexibility for indoor dining in restaurants with a smaller footprint.
"Our business establishments, restaurants and so forth have suffered tremendously under the executive orders issued by Governor Murphy and what we're trying to do is simply help these restaurants and businesses survive and hopefully thrive in the future," Assemblyman McGuckin tells Townsquare Media News. "The bills are designed to make it easier for them to operate."
Since restaurants and eateries were allowed to reopen last year during the pandemic, restrictions have been in place and scaled back over time but many have been forced to close their doors in the current climate.
The series of bills being co-sponsored would give restaurants a fighting chance to survive.
Assemblyman McGuckin explains that the contact tracing efforts of the Covid transmission rate not leaving much of a footprint in restaurants so they should be allowed to expand capacity.
"We think that the evidence has shown that the transmission of Covid is not occurring in restaurants," McGuckin said. "We've doubted that science from the beginning, it did not seem to make much sense. Restaurants and bars and so forth have adapted to the issue and they provide all the appropriate safeguards and it's time for them to be allowed to survive."
The rate of transmission has been going up in New Jersey of late and Governor Murphy has put the brakes on making any big reopening announcements until things are heading in a healthier direction.
"What the evidence has shown is the transmission rate inside or outside restaurants is much lower than elsewhere. There are precautions that are taken in restaurants that are not taken in other places," McGuckin said. "I have not yet seen the study which shows that we couldn't expand restaurants seating to 75-percent or even 100-percent capacity at this time. If there was science that showed it, I would be a little more reluctant, but that's not the case."
The restrictions are putting restaurants, bars and other eateries in a similar position to this time last year when they were trying to plan ahead for an uncertain reality for the spring and summer months with little guidance to go on.
Assemblyman McGuckin says restaurants have adapted tremendously and have been doing everything asked of them in putting up health and safety guards but they need more help.
"Most restaurants cannot survive without a percentage of their tables being utilized and it's a tough industry to begin with," McGuckin said. "What we're trying to do is to make it easier for these businesses to provide for this type of temporary outdoor dining, outdoor service without having to go through the municipalities and the red tape, which would be different in every single town. It would also provide a system of statewide safeguards that could immediately be addressed to allow them to quickly and easily adapt to a changing dynamic and to provide more outdoor dining."
Without further action taken to help restaurants and businesses under these restrictions stay afloat, McGuckin explains, more of them will shut down and more people will lose their jobs.
"There's no scientific bases to allow that to happen and it's time to open these restaurants up and get this industry back where it belongs," McGuckin said.
Assemblyman McGuckin's fellow 10th District Legislators continue to push for this package of bills to be passed as well and give restaurants some help for the months ahead.
“The restaurant and bar industry has been forced to make drastic changes to comply with Governor Murphy’s endless executive orders in order to stay afloat,” Senator Holzapfel said in a statement. “We believe these bills will provide the necessary tools to keep their doors open while maintaining a safe environment for their customers and staff. “
“With this bill package we hope to combat the economic devastation caused across the board by the relentless shutdowns and restrictions,” Assemblyman Catalano said in a statement. “Restaurant and bar owners want more stability and the opportunity to serve their communities without fear of breaking the law. We can help business owners find a way to plan ahead when it comes to safely serving customers without sacrificing potential revenue. ”