Mullery urges easing of statewide COVID-19 on restaurants

HARRISBURG, Sept. 1 – State Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Luzerne, has signed on to a package of bills to ease the statewide COVID-19 restrictions placed on indoor dining in restaurants struggling to stay open amid the pandemic.

"Restaurants are the backbone of our local economy and are among the small businesses hit hardest by the coronavirus,” Mullery said. “These restaurants are enduring serious financial hardship and depend on customers to stay open. If they are in an area with low case numbers, can follow CDC safe guidelines, and have the space to operate safely at 50% capacity, then they should be allowed to do so. They should not be held to the 25% capacity restriction required in areas more affected by the pandemic.”

Mullery is co-sponsoring a package of nine bills that would provide grants to local restaurants, bars and clubs, reduce and eliminate specific licensing fees, extend discounts to licensees and protect businesses by guaranteeing their insurance pays out in future emergencies. 

Included in the package is Mullery’s bill which would waive the liquor license renewal fee for any bar, restaurant or club that suffered more than a 25% downturn in business due to the virus. The other bills in the package include:

  • Earmarking CARES grant funding from the federal government to be directed to small, community restaurants instead of national chains to ensure those dollars are invested back into the region.
  • Earmarking CARES grant funding from the federal government for Pennsylvania breweries, distilleries and wineries forced to reduce capacity to protect patrons. Most of these businesses are small and family-operated and help support multiple community efforts, and this funding will help keep them in operation. 
  • Expanding access to outdoor dining for restaurants and diners, including removing limitations concerning public thoroughfares, fees and delays in approval. Scientific evidence is growing that outdoor activity is a much lower risk than indoor dining, and helping restaurants add space outdoors can help them stay open while giving people an opportunity to get out and enjoy themselves.
  • Increasing the discount for restaurants and bars holding liquor licenses when they purchase wholesale alcohol from 10% to 15%, putting more money back in the pockets of operators to keep their doors open and staff employed.
  • Eliminating the $500 off-premise catering permit fee to allow more restaurants to safely cook food in kitchens and deliver it to safe outdoor locations, as well as remove the March deadline to submit an application to do off-premise catering, and end the 52-event-per-year cap.
  • Eliminating sales tax late payment penalties on restaurants and bars purchasing alcohol from wholesalers and allowing for a repayment grace period when the industry has recovered.
  • Requiring business insurance policies to pay damages and benefits when a disaster emergency is declared. An insurance policy that doesn’t pay the holder when emergencies arise is worse than no coverage at all – it is money that could have been used to reinvest in the business thrown away. When the pandemic hit, many policies invoked an “Act of God” loophole to not pay damages, and businesses have suffered.
  • Allowing license holders with licenses in safekeeping relief from paying the license renewal or validation fee for one year. Just a few months ago, many of these businesses were making renovations and improvements that would have put them in a position to remove their license from safekeeping and start operating -- the virus delay shouldn’t stop these entrepreneurs from reinvesting in their communities. 

Mullery said he hopes the House and Senate move these bills fast so the needed relief can reach these struggling restaurants quickly.