Photo of Senator Cassano.

State Senator

Steve Cassano

Representing Andover, Bolton, Glastonbury & Manchester

Senate Extends Outdoor Food, Beverage Service by Restaurants into 2022, Preserving Popular Restaurant Pandemic Operations

Today, the State Senate voted 34-0 to unanimously approve legislation that will extend outdoor dining activity at restaurants through March 31, 2022. The legislation, which has no fiscal impact, establishes a process by which local zoning officials can allow or expand outdoor dining at restaurants. It also specifies that any outdoor dining activity previously authorized by executive order will be approved though March 31, 2022. State Senator Steve Cassano (D-Manchester) today voted in support after playing a significant role in its development as Senate Chair of the Planning & Development Committee; the bill now heads to the Governor's office to be signed into law.

"Our restaurants are the lifeblood of our towns and cities' economies, and after the pandemic forced their closures, outdoor dining was a solution to a difficult problem," said Sen. Cassano. "Even today, we still face pressures from the pandemic; as such, expanding this legislation for another year, if not longer in municipalities that choose to permanently expand such services. Restaurants are struggling, and many are on the verge of collapse, so this legislation is only part of the solution; we need to go out and support our local restaurants, doing anything we can to help, especially as vaccination rates improve. I'm grateful this bill received widespread support and look forward to seeing Governor Lamont sign it into law."

House Bill 6610, "An Act Concerning The Provision of Outdoor Food and Beverage Service By Restaurants," was amended last week during its passage in the House. Under its language, if adopted, zoning or planning officials would have the power to expand or permit outdoor activities for restaurants to respond to or provide economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Any permit for outdoor eating would not require significant paperwork such as site surveys or traffic studies to expedite the approval process outside of information that could impact public health, safety or the environment. Any applications filed would be responded to within ten days of receipt, and any appeals process after a potential rejection would need to be filed within a week.

Notably, municipalities wishing to permanently expand the availability of outdoor dining and retail activity would be allowed to expedite permanent changes to their zoning rules. In the future, the legislation could be expanded to enable permanent expanded outdoor dining in its current state.

Otherwise, the legislation holds preexisting standards for outdoor activities, such as specific spacing and zoning for outdoor dining that does not interfere with local pathways and are subject to reasonable standards, such as compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As the COVID-19 pandemic struck in spring 2020, restaurants struggled under limitations imposed on their businesses by public safety standards. Expansion of outdoor dining led to increased safety and comfort for diners, leading to benefits for the businesses adopting them. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control found patients who reported dining inside a restaurant were 2.4 times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 during the early months of the pandemic.






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