Pennsylvania Senate OKs bill to loosen virus limits on restaurants, bars

The Associated Press
The Paddock on Market in Springettsbury Township opened this weekend with outdoor seating for customers. Named the Inaugural Paddock's Pop-up Patio, the outdoor dining is a big change of business for The Paddock, a family-owned restaurant for 70 years. Sunday, June 7, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

HARRISBURG — Legislation to loosen Gov. Tom Wolf's pandemic restrictions on Pennsylvania's bars and restaurants easily passed the state Senate on Tuesday.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 43 to 6 for a bill that would end the requirement that customers buy food in order to purchase alcohol and would permit patrons to be served drinks at the bar.

It also would permit taverns and restaurants to operate at 50% capacity, or more if they can meet state and federal social distancing standards or erect appropriate barriers, and make it easier for restaurants to adapt adjacent outside areas to serve customers.

The bill will need another round of House approval before it can be sent to Wolf's desk.

Wolf’s press secretary, Lyndsay Kensinger, said nearly every state currently has occupancy limits for bars and restaurants, and she said the Democratic governor will veto the bill if he gets it in its current form.

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Lawmakers, Kensinger said, should among other measures provide financial help to the hospitality sector, funding for child care and hazard pay for frontline workers.

Supporters of the legislation say it will help the state's hard-hit restaurant and bar sector, and the measure has the support of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association.

The leisure and hospitality sector — which includes restaurants and bars — remains 170,000 jobs, or about 30%, behind where payrolls were in February, according to state data.

Wolf’s administration this week raised allowable capacity at Pennsylvania restaurants from 25% to 50% for establishments that can certify they meet state and federal standards for mask wearing, social distancing and hours of operation.