Governor Murphy vetoes bill for affordable outdoor dining permits

The veto deals another blow to the already struggling restaurant industry while attempting to limit the spread of COVID.


Photo courtesy of Flickr/Creative Commons

Governor Murphy at a COVID briefing in Trenton

Lauren Noble, Assistant Editor, News Desk

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy vetoed a bill pursuing expansion of outdoor dining opportunities following restricted indoor dining amid the pandemic on January 4.

Assembly Bill No. 4525 would have allowed restaurants, bars, distilleries and breweries to continue use of their outdoor dining spaces without the need to pay to submit an application or pay an acceptance fee for a license. Succeeding an unanimous pass by the Senate and Assembly, Murphy vetoed the bill under justification that the main objectives of the bill have already been achieved through other state initiatives.

“I commend the bill’s sponsors for their efforts to assist New Jersey’s businesses and farms in finding creative ways to continue to operate during the COVID-19 emergency,” Murphy said. “However, in seeking to deliver a degree of relief to these businesses, the bill circumvents existing licensing and regulation processes critical to protecting the public’s health and safety.”

Under the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), there is currently a $75 license fee for expansion of a business’s serving premises and a $10 renewal fee. Under the bill, however, businesses pursuing outdoor dining expansion can apply for free to a local zoning office, who would then have fifteen days to approve an application following the requirements of the bill. 

“Because aspects of the bill encroach on the authority of both the ABC and municipal governments to protect the public’s health and safety, and because many of the bill’s goals have already been achieved, I am unable to support it”, Murphy claims.

Murphy argues that the objectives of the bill have already been accomplished. As of last spring, the ABC and Department of Community Affairs have authorized businesses to apply for a “COVID-19 Expansion of Premises Permit”, allowing holders of permits and licenses to expand their licensed premises into outdoor areas. In the following October, the permitting program was extended until at least March. The ABC has since June issued more than 2,300 permits. 

Murphy adds in his statement that this bill 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.”

Murphy stands by the concerns of public health as he claims that the bill would limit the abilities of the municipalities to restrict hours of operation for businesses. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka also expresses his public health concerns, insisting that the bill “would have immediate consequences, as the city of Newark currently limits outdoor dining after 9:00 PM,” and that “signing this bill into law would immediately overturn these restrictions and disrupt Newark’s plan to combat COVID-19.”

 Bill No. 4525 was passed 39-0 in the Senate and 74-0 in the Assembly. Criticism against Murphy’s veto heightens as the New Jersey Business and Industry Association said Murphy should have worked with the Legislature to make adjustments to the bill rather than vetoing it entirely.