By David Jacobs | The Center Square
An oversight committee of the Louisiana Legislature on Wednesday pressed the state’s top alcohol regulator to come up with ideas to help the businesses he regulates that are struggling to survive under COVID-19 restrictions.
Ernest Legier Jr., commissioner of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, said he works with businesses to help them get into compliance but stressed that his office is following Gov. John Bel Edwards’ dictates.
“Your department needs to come up with some ideas and bring them to the governor,” House Ways and Means Chairman Stuart Bishop said. “We need to come up with a plan to save these businesses.”
Legier said 51 licenses to serve alcohol out of more than 11,000 in the state have been suspended since emergency rules meant to control the spread of COVID-19 were imposed in March. Those businesses were “bad actors” with repeated violations, he said. No permits have been revoked.
“Our goal is to not be heavy-handed,” he said. “We’re not trying to be punitive.”
Johnny Blancher, CEO of Rock’n’Bowl, said it currently makes more sense economically for him to close than to stay open. His business offers bowling, live music, and food and drinks under one roof. He said his facility circulates indoor air more frequently than is required for hospitals and should be permitted to resume holding concerts.
Advocates for breweries argued their taprooms should not be regulated like bars, which in most parishes currently must be closed to indoor on-premise service. People come to taprooms to sample beer and take some home but not to party, they said.
Lawsuits seeking to roll back some or all of the COVID-19 restrictions so far have been unsuccessful. Plaintiffs largely have challenged the governor’s constitutional authority to impose the restrictions.
Rep. Barry Ivey said those business owners might have another legal avenue. Executive branch agencies typically follow a specific process when they create rules to implement legislation, he noted.
A similar process is required when crafting rules to implement the governor’s emergency order, and that process was not followed, Ivey argued. Legier said the administration does not believe the administrative process Ivey was referring to applied.
“I don’t care how good the intent is,” Ivey said. “We have to follow the law.”