PA bars, restaurants: No reprieve from pandemic restrictions

No reprieve

(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania bars and restaurants will see no reprieve from pandemic restrictions after the General Assembly’s latest intervention failed on Tuesday.

The state House of Representatives fell short of overturning Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto on House Bill 2513. The bill would have eased capacity limits and alcohol sale restrictions ahead of the cold weather that establishments say will further hamstring their operations. 

RELATED: Restaurant, bar owners to legislature:: ‘Override Wolf’s veto’

The chamber needed a two-thirds majority to send the motion to the Senate. Representatives could only muster 133 of the 135 votes needed for success. A dozen Democrats who had supported the proposal on a concurrence vote last month reversed course on the veto override. 

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Wolf rejected the bill Friday. He said expanding capacity limits and lifting the 11 p.m. ban on alcohol sales would pose a public health risk. The administration said Monday the state’s fall resurgence of COVID-19 is here. The stricter capacity limits are necessary because much of the community spread can be linked to dining out, Wolf claims.

The bill eased the capacity limit to 50 percent for all restaurants and allowed some bar seating, among other tweaks. Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association Executive Director Chuck Moran scoffed at the notion that restaurants and bars are the source of rising infections. He blamed instead schools reopening and relaxed restrictions on public gatherings.

“We all know that there is no shortage of kegs, cases, and liquor bottles – and of course house parties – in college towns and elsewhere,” he said. “Our struggling neighborhood bars, taverns, and pubs are not the reason for the current spike. Through contact tracing, we know that just 2% of COVID-19 positive patients reported having been in a bar within the 14 days before testing!”

Business owners: ‘Disappointing political maneuver’

Matthew Flinchbaugh, owner of Flinchy’s and Home Slice at Walden in Cumberland County, called out Wolf and the Democrats who flipped their votes for the “disappointing” political maneuver at the expense of business owners.

“At a time when we need our elected officials to step up and support us, most House Democratic lawmakers chose not to overturn Governor Tom Wolf’s veto that is severely crippling our restaurants, bars and taverns; and is significantly hurting our daily lives,” he said. “Our hardworking employees and family businesses have suffered enough.” 

Restaurants who choose to self-certify through the state can serve indoors at up to 50% capacity. Those who don’t must adhere to just 25%, as outlined in a July mandate. The restriction could close as many as 7,000 establishments permanently, according to the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association. That would leave 200,000 unemployed.

With winter approaching, outdoor dining that helped many stay afloat will no longer be an option, Flinchbaugh said.  

“These partisan antics and job-killing measures are severely impacting mental health, suicide rates, and unemployment, hindering family survival and closing restaurants for good statewide,” he said. “The misinformation about HB 2513 and our industry being spread by this governor is disheartening.”

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