Some bars agree to pay fine to reinstate licenses; constitutionality of virus restrictions to be argued in hearing

Some bars agree to pay fine to reinstate licenses; constitutionality of virus restrictions to be argued in hearing
ATC suspended the bar permit, pending a hearing, of the Pelican Pub in Gonzales due to non-compliance of COVID-19 mitigation guidelines, authorities said Monday, July 27, 2020. (Source: WAFB)

(WAFB/AP) - Two bar owners have agreed to pay a $250 fine to have their liquor licenses reinstated after being suspended for refusing to follow Governor John Bel Edwards’ coronavirus rules.

Pelican Pub in Gonzales and a daiquiri shop in Lake Charles agreed to pay the fine. Pelican Pub says it will remain closed following the ordeal.

Owner, Josh Johnson, says he believes his business was operating in a safe manner, but expressed the same frustrations several bar owners are dealing with as well.

“My bar is small. It’s quaint,” Johnson said. " I might have, on average, 20 to 30 people in my bar.”

Johnson says he visited a casino over the weekend where anywhere between 300 and 500 people were drinking alcohol.

“I don’t know how you can explain to me that their masks are off and they’re drinking, how COVID knows the difference between my bar and a casino or restaurant,” Johnson said.

An attorney for 11 bars across Louisiana will argue against Gov. John Bel Edwards and his coronavirus restrictions Wednesday, Aug. 5 and Thursday, Aug. 6. The updated Phase 2 guidelines limit bars to takeout and delivery. Lawyer, Jimmy Faircloth, says the rules unlawfully target the bar industry.

The lawsuit was filed in Lafayette federal court and names Gov. Edwards and Fire Marshal Butch Browning as defendants. Browning serves as the chief enforcement officer of the coronavirus regulations. Browning’s office says it has issued over 700 violations to businesses across the state.

The hearings could result in a 30-day suspension of the business’ alcohol license, according to Browning.

When a bar’s alcohol permit is revoked by ATC, it could be shut down for 30 days and they must appear before a judge to appeal the decision.

The bars argue Gov. Edwards cannot show a “real or substantial relation” between the closure of bars to onsite drinking and the public health crisis. They say only a small number of known COVID-19 cases have been traced by the state to bars, and they say none of those cases were tracked to their businesses.

One barbecue restaurant in Watson remains open despite the restrictions. The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) revoked its operating license.

More: Firehouse BBQ in Livingston Parish reopens despite LDH revoking food permit for violating mask, social distancing mandates

LDH says it has traced 464 confirmed coronavirus infections to 41 bars, among the largest number of cases tracked to a specific type of business.

Gov. Edwards banned onsite consumption at bars in July after previously allowing bars to reopen with restaurants and other businesses. But the governor and his health advisers say bars have been shown to be specifically problematic because people tend to huddle closely together inside without masks while drinking and lapse in their virus precautions the more alcohol they consume.

The White House’s Coronavirus Task Force recommended Louisiana close bars to reduce public health risks and to lessen the spread of the virus.

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Copyright 2020 WAFB via The Associated Press. All rights reserved.