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40 Restaurants Join Lawsuit Against Governor

By Erinn Broadus

As coronavirus regulations continue to plague restaurants and businesses, some restaurant owners filed a lawsuit against the Governor for unfair and overly restrictive requirements. Back Door owner, John Dant, and Dundee Tavern owner, Alan Hincks, sued the state in late August. Since then, 40 other restaurants and bars from all over Kentucky have joined the lawsuit. Doc Crows, Goodwood, and Overtime in Louisville as well as Hilligans in Bowling Green are just some of the notable restaurants that have signed on.

Currently, the minimum requirements to be open in Kentucky are:

  • Enforce social distancing (six (6) feet or more)

  • Universal face coverings

  • Provide adequate hand sanitizer and encourage hand washing

  • Ensure proper sanitation

  • Conduct daily temperature/health checks

Restaurants and bars are subject to additional regulations that have been changed, withdrawn, and enhanced repeatedly during the past 3 months—often with little to no advanced notice. Currently, these rules require:

  • Last call at 11pm and must close by 12am

  • Discontinued bar seating

  • Limit customers to 50 percent capacity

  • Limit party size to 10 people or fewer

  • Limit the number of occupants in the restroom

  • Put in place a system that tracks the number of people entering and exiting the establishment, and implement “one for one” counting when capacity is reached

  • Maximize outdoor space

The crux of the lawsuit is centered on fairness, and the how these regulations have been unfairly applied. Entities deemed “non-essential” were heavily regulated and many have closed their doors forever. Under the Governor’s ever-changing orders, restaurants and bars currently must have last call at 11 and everyone out by midnight, but that rule does not apply uniformly. For example, Derby City Gaming is one of the 4 casinos in Kentucky to which the curfew does not apply. While the casinos must adhere to the mask and capacity requirements, their hours are unchanged. Derby City Gaming closes at 4am Monday through Thursday and is open 24 hours Friday and Saturday. Kentucky Downs is open until 5am during the week and is also open 24 hours during the weekend. Casinos – that also serve food and alcohol – are exempt from the restrictive rules placed on restaurants and bars for no ascertainable reason. In addition to certain casinos, haunted houses like Baxter Avenue Morgue located on Bardstown Road are permitted to stay open until 1am.

15 percent of working Kentuckians are employed in the service industry. An analysis from the Kentucky Center for Statistics explained that while many of the jobs in the service industry that were lost in the early days of the pandemic have been recovered, the service industry is not seeing the same continued recovery that other industries have due to capacity restrictions.

Tennessee, in contrast, has chosen not to place unnecessary restrictions on restaurants and bars, but rather to inform residents of the risks associated with public interaction and to trust them to act accordingly based on their own health needs. While Tennessee does have restrictions, such as social distancing and sanitization, the state does not require its restaurants and bars to adhere to an arbitrary and ever-changing curfew. Both Indiana and Ohio, Kentucky’s other neighboring states, are following similar paths, enforcing social distancing without the chaos of unnecessary curfews and fluctuating capacity restrictions.

As Kentucky continues to press on through unprecedented times, the very least we can ask from our Governor is consistency. Restaurants and bars employ thousands of Kentuckians, and these businesses have struggled to remain open under back and forth regulations imposed on them. Restaurants are not asking to be exempt, or to not follow the rules regarding face masks and social distancing—they just want the regulations to be consistent and evenly applied.

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