Both houses of the state Legislature passed a new outdoor dining expansion bill Monday, following Gov. Phil Murphy’s veto of a similar measure he warned “circumvents existing licensing and regulation processes critical to protecting the public’s health and safety.”
The fast-tracked legislation, which skipped committee votes, would allow restaurants, bars, breweries and distilleries struggling amid the pandemic to extend their footprints and serve patrons in parking lots, yards, patios, decks and public sidewalks.
Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, a sponsor, said the bill (S3340) will help these establishments shortcut the “red tape that government creates and give these businesses a small shot in the arm to survive.”
The bill passed 34-0 in the Senate and then cleared the Assembly in a 75-0 vote. It’s now back on Murphy’s desk.
Businesses would have to apply to their local zoning office to expand their operations outdoors. The bill gives zoning officers more flexibility to reject applications than the bill Murphy vetoed. It also allows the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control to offer breweries, distilleries and wineries permits to sell their drinks at farmers markets.
Lawmakers introduced this latest bill Thursday, rather than attempt to override the governor’s veto. The earlier bill passed unopposed in both chambers.
Business lobbyists had criticized Murphy’s veto, which they said would cost businesses opportunities to expand and outlast the pandemic.
The original outdoor dining bill similarly would have permitted expansions into businesses’ neighboring outdoor spaces, though Murphy took issue with aspects he said “encroach on the authority of both the (the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control) and municipal governments to protect the public’s health and safety.”
That includes shifting enforcement and oversight from state Alcohol Beverage Control fully to local governments while also forcing municipalities to approve any applicant that submits proper documentation and overriding their ability to limit hours of operation, he said.
In his veto message, the governor noted the state already has taken steps to allow these businesses to bring their operations outdoors through the end of March “without compromising the public’s health and safety,” and has approved more than 2,300 permits since June.
Under that bill (A4525), businesses wanting to expand outdoor operations would have had to apply for free to a local zoning office, which would have had 15 days to approve an application that complied with the bill’s requirements. Murphy argued this 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,” he said.
He argued also the bill limits municipalities’ ability to restrict businesses’ hours of operation based on public health concerns.