By DANIEL KITTREDGE A resolution calling for state officials to ease pandemic-related restrictions on businesses - specifically early closing times for bars and restaurants - was set to go before the City Council this week. Cosponsored by Council
A resolution calling for state officials to ease pandemic-related restrictions on businesses – specifically early closing times for bars and restaurants – was set to go before the City Council this week.
Cosponsored by Council President Chris Paplauskas, Council Vice President Ed Brady and Ward 1 Councilwoman Lammis Vargas, the measure carries a formal title calling on the governor and General Assembly to “adjust public health guidelines and executive orders that are harming Rhode Island’s small business community.”
It was due to go before a special meeting of the full council on Thursday, Jan. 21, for introduction and consideration.
The language of the resolution states: “[W]hile well-intentioned, some directives and executive orders – in particular, the arbitrary 10 p.m. weekday and 10:30 p.m. weekend closing time established on Nov. 8, 2020 – have caused significant and, in some cases, irreparable harm to restaurants, bars, social clubs, stores, vendors, indoor recreational facilities, and other small businesses.”
The resolution criticizes the early closing times as “not grounded in any empirical, scientific or other type of analysis,” and asserts that the “harm” that and other restrictions have caused “has not been adequately recognized or addressed by the State of Rhode Island, insofar as the state has failed to provide sufficient resources or assistance to the small business community, and the state has not signaled when or how small businesses may return to normal hours of operations, despite those businesses taking numerous precautions and complying with all executive orders and health directives.”
The resolution asks the governor and General Assembly “to act without delay to allow small businesses to resume their normal operating hours,” or in lieu of that step, that “immediate and decisive action be taken by state leaders to provide significant additional financial assistance to the small businesses that are struggling and negatively affected by this mandate.”
Brady, who is part of a restaurant group that owns the Thirsty Beaver and other establishments, wrote on Facebook that the early closing time rule is “one of the state directives that has hurt more than anything.” Members of the hospitality industry, he wrote, “were told would be a temporary measure, but has been in effect now for over two months with no sign of relief.”
“Our state needs to do better to help keep our small business community alive – we need our Rhode Island’s elected leaders to act,” Brady’s post reads. “For many, unfortunately it's already too late.”
Brady’s post also calls on city and town councils in all 39 Rhode Island municipalities to pass similar resolutions.
“[State leaders] need to hear our unified voice, and our call to action,” he wrote.
Paplauskas, who called for the special meeting to consider the measure, addressed the resolution in his own Facebook post.
“Small business is in serious trouble, we need to do our part to be their voice … I hope other communities will help and pass similar resolutions before more businesses that are the fabric of our community are gone forever,” he wrote. “The pause shouldn’t be permanent, small businesses across our state have complied every step along the way and are at the brink.”
Vargas added on Facebook: “Covid-19 has driven our local commerce to an economic disruption leading many of our local businesses to close their doors and reduce their staff … The resolution in a nutshell entails asking Governor Raimondo to act without delay to allow small businesses to resume their normal operating hours. If the state cannot remove the restriction, we respectfully ask the state to advocate for financial dollars on behalf of impacted small businesses.”
The resolution has drawn support from other city officials, as well as the Rhode Island Small Business Coalition.
“We stand with Edward Brady and the Cranston City Council in support of small businesses, particularly the restaurants and bars that have been targeted with these extended restrictions,” the coalition wrote in a Facebook post. “Make no mistake – containing the virus and the health crisis is the #1 priority and will be the ultimate path towards our small businesses getting out of this economic crisis. We believe decisions must be based on data, and so far we have not been presented how this restriction is a huge contributor to containing the virus. It must outweigh the negative impact it has on our small business community.”
Mayor Ken Hopkins on Monday said he supports the resolution.
“We need to start taking care of our small businesses … Hopefully they can come back,” he said. “I’m concerned about whether they’re going to survive, and we need to do everything we can to help them.”
In November, the council unanimously approved a resolution brought forward by Vargas and Paplauskas calling on the governor to release millions of dollars in additional relief for the state’s business community.
Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, who is poised to become governor if Raimondo is confirmed as Secretary of Commerce under the Biden administration, was among those who spoke in favor of the November resolution.
In a pre-Christmas briefing, Raimondo defended her administration’s approach to providing assistance for businesses, saying nearly $490 million of Rhode Island’s $1.25 billion in federal CARES Act money went toward “business and economic support.” Roughly half of that funding went to hospitals, which saw revenues plummet when elective procedures were halted for a time in the early months of the pandemic.
Raimondo and state officials have also stood by the early closing times and other restrictions for bars and restaurants. When she announced the early closing times in November, the governor said that “the later the night goes on, the more people put their guard down” in terms of mask-wearing and social distancing.
Raimondo last week said the state’s current COVID-19 guidelines – put in place with the expiration of the three-week “pause” in December – will remain in place through mid-February. The rules continue to include the 10 o’clock hour closing times for bars, restaurants and other establishments.
Under the post-pause rules, bar areas in various establishments must remain closed, although the capacity limit increased from 33 percent to 50 percent.