The Texas Restaurant Association, with the backing of more than 70 state lawmakers, is asking Gov. Greg Abbott to take another look at the wording of his executive order shutting down bars during the pandemic.
Those lawmakers backing the association’s request include state Rep. Mayes Middleton and state Sen. Larry Taylor, both of whom represent Galveston County.
The request to the governor is not to change state law, but rather to define his executive order closing bars and limiting service at restaurants.
Under current state law, how a business is defined as a bar or restaurant depends solely on total sales receipts. If a business gets more than 50 percent of its income from alcohol sales, it is considered a bar.
Think of it this way. If you sit down at what you think is a fine restaurant, order a $20 appetizer and entree, but drink three $10 martinis, you are not dining at a restaurant, but at a bar.
Again, the restaurant association is not asking the governor to overrule current state law, but rather to adjust his executive order.
In the legislators’ letter to the governor, they mapped some simple guidelines the governor should consider. The business must:
1. Have a permanent kitchen on its premise that includes an exhaust hood and fire suppression system;
Those requirements rule out small pizza ovens that only cook frozen food.
2. Has the kitchen operational during all hours the establishment is opened. Translated, the business cannot serve lunch from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. and dinner from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., but serve alcohol continuously from noon to 2 a.m. Basically, the only time booze can be served is when food can be prepared.
3. No sitting, ordering or eating at the bar within the restaurant. Orders must be taken at a table, within current social distancing as outlined in the governor’s executive order.
The association contends that more than 1,500 restaurant/bars fall within the narrow 51 percent/49 percent definition of what is a bar or restaurant. The definition of what is a bar or restaurant has put about 35,000 people out of work, the association contends.
Executive orders are not the permanent law of the land. Only by legislative action, executive signature and court review can there be a law.
An executive order does not fit any of the criteria for law of the land. An executive order is merely a temporary measure, which a mayor, county judge, governor or president can do. Thus, an executive order can be changed as simply as it is applied.
The restaurant association argument, backed by legislators’ support, should be strongly considered by Abbott.
• Dave Mathews