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Ohio News

Bars Could Get Back Thousands In COVID-Related Fines In House Version Of Budget

Signs at the entrance to a bar in downtown Cleveland, indicating that masks are required.
Signs at the entrance to a bar in downtown Cleveland, indicating that masks are required.

Ohio House Republicans added a provision into Gov. Mike DeWine’s two-year state budget that would erase violations of his COVID health orders by bars and taverns, such as selling too many cocktails to go, not enforcing social distancing and masks or allowing drinking past curfew. But it would also refund those liquor permit holders what they paid in fines.

There’s already a bill being heard in the House that would completely remove COVID-specific violations against bars, taverns and liquor permit holders.

Andy Herf with the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association said the goal is to make sure bars that made mistakes under temporary COVID restrictions aren’t punished with the permanent revoking of their licenses.

“If a bar owner has four violations and say, two of them were COVID related and the other two were not, the next time they do something wrong, it's going to show that they've had four prior violations and that could lead to a revocation," Herf said.

But the House budget proposal goes further.

An analysis of that provision says it would refund around $100,000 in fines paid for hundreds of violations of COVID orders by liquor permit holders – some of whom were cited more than once.

Herf said while some bars and taverns were cited repeatedly, he said most deserve a break.

“There might be some businesses that generally people wouldn't want to support. But if they only did a COVID violation, then we think it's time to move on. It's time to move forward," Herf said.

Herf said liquor permit holders have been hit hard in the pandemic. The House budget also includes $100 million in COVID relief for bars and restaurants.

While Herf said he doesn't want to get into a dispute between Gov. Mike DeWine and state lawmakers over health orders, he's grateful to both for their support of the industry.

Bars were ordered to close last March and could reopen last May. But hundreds were cited for not enforcing social distancing or masks, and later for selling too many cocktails to go and allowing drinking past a 10pm curfew.

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau