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Nearly Two Dozen State Senators Demand SLA Ease Up on Restaurant and Bar Crackdown

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“Strict” guidelines and “exorbitant” fees destroy any chances restaurant owners have at recovery, state senators say

Customers dine at outdoor tables at Have & Meyer Gary He/Eater

More than 20 state senators are calling on the State Liquor Authority to ease back its enforcement of coronavirus guidelines on New York state restaurants and bars, according to a statement issued by Queens state senator Jessica Ramos.

“Strict enforcement guidelines and high fines are destroying businesses’ chances to survive the economic catastrophe brought by the pandemic,” Ramos writes. Twenty three state senators have signed on to the bill so far.

While punishments vary, businesses found in violation of the state’s COVID-19 regulations face fines up to $10,000 per violation. More serious violations can result in restaurants and bars having their liquor licenses suspended. Since mid-June, the state agency has conducted nearly 41,000 checks. 165 businesses have temporarily lost their liquor licenses, while 886 have been charged with violations.

Ramos’ letter specifically addresses Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s infamous “three strikes and you’re closed” rule, which she says violates restaurateurs right to due process. Under the policy, the state can close an establishment due to noncompliance with social-distancing and to-go alcohol mandates, including making sure that customers are wearing masks, and only selling takeout booze alongside food.

“To empower businesses to reopen and employ the community the current administration’s policies need to change and need to teach businesses before punishing them,” the letter reads. “Business owners deserve the right to a hearing after they’ve been charged with a violation of the three strike rule and before they are fined.”

In the letter, Ramos also alleges that the State Liquor Authority has used harassment tactics including “sirens and megaphones” to taunt owners with the threat of closings during working hours.

Several restaurateurs have previously reported that they felt “targeted” by the state agency or claimed that they were denied their right to due process. Others, like restaurateur Yudai Kanayama, have spoken out about unsavory encounters with workers at the state agency. Earlier this month, the restaurateur with businesses in East Village and Chinatown reported that an SLA officer asked to take photos of his outdoor karaoke set-up at the newly opened Dr. Clark, masquerading as a curious parent.

“They said the photos were for their daughter,” Kanayama said. “It was creeping out customers.” The following week, Kanayama received an email notice from the SLA notifying him that karaoke is currently banned in NYC due to the pandemic.

In an email to Eater, the SLA referred to the senators’ demands as “misinformed” and rebutted the claims in the letter. “Enforcement is our last option to protect New Yorkers after continued non-compliance,” the statement reads. “We only suspend licenses in the most extreme, egregious cases — which is why over 40,000 inspections have led to just 162 suspensions — and we will continue to hold the small number of bad actors accountable so the vast majority of New Yorkers who are following the rules stay safe.”

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