Lawmakers pushing for a bill to hold customers liable for violating COVID-19 restrictions instead of business owners

KNWA

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — State lawmakers are pushing to pass a bill that would protect businesses if a customer violates COVID-19 restrictions.

This all surrounds Senate Bill 254. Lawmakers tell KNWA/FOX24 News if a customer is not following the rules like not wearing a mask inside a business, that business should not be punished because of that individual’s actions.

State Representative, Robin Lundstrum is a primary sponsor on this bill. She says at this point people know what they need to do to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. She continued that it’s time to get rid of actions that hurt already struggling businesses.

Lundstrum tells us this includes businesses being unfairly penalizing by the department of health or the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division.

A spokesperson for ABC, Scott Hardin says it can’t speak to the details of the legislation. However, it recognizes that it takes a lot of effort to operate a business and make sure everyone is following the safety guidelines in place. This is why Hardin tells us a verbal warning is usually the first approach.

“It was never an out of the gate we are going to issue citations and fines. It was always more of an effort of education of here are the directives. Never, okay we see one person without a mask and now you’re going to be fined,” said Hardin.

“Businesses are working hard to make all of the adjustments that they can and individuals need to be held responsible for their behavior. We are all adults we know what to do,” said Lundstrum.

Lundstrum says this bill would hold individuals accountable for their own actions and take the burden off businesses.

Since June, Hardin says agents have conducted over 6000 compliance checks and 94% of them passed and the majority of businesses, restaurant and bars are following the safety guidelines.

To date, businesses have paid about $38,000 in fines for not complying to the COVID-19 restrictions.

Owner of The Piano Bar, Aaron Schauer tells us he supports this bill. He adds that he has no issues with the guidelines that limit capacity, requires employees to wear masks and the sanitation requirements.

He has signage throughout his business and hired security to make sure people inside his business are following the rules, yet there are still some who don’t.

When that happens if an ABC agent pops in then he is the one held accountable.

He says businesses are barely making enough money to get by and these penalties are just making it harder for them to operate.

“It’s a serious deal for businesses because after a few violations they can pull your liquor license and there is simply no one else facing this fate in this whole situation,” said Schauer.

He believes bars and restaurants with liquor licenses face the harshest punishments and are unfairly targeted by the department of health and ABC.

Schauer was also part of the group of bars owners who filed a lawsuit against the state’s 11 pm curfew, late January.

Although the lawsuit was dismissed by an Arkansas judge, the curfew expired earlier this month.

If this bill becomes a law, the individual and not the business owner would be cited or fined for violating COVID-19 restrictions. The senate did vote to pass the bill and it is now being discussed at the house.

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