On July 14, 2021, the Senate Health Committee approved Assembly Bill (“AB”) 61, which would provide regulatory flexibility to restaurants to expand outdoor dining. The bill now includes an urgency clause, meaning that it can be implemented immediately after it passes. The bill was first introduced on December 7, 2020. It now has 21 bipartisan co-authors.
According to a press release, “AB 61 would provide much-needed regulatory flexibility to restaurants, including temporarily waiving requirements for fully enclosed kitchen and service areas, extending existing ABC regulatory relief, and providing ABC with flexibility and discretion to allow for changes to existing alcohol licenses.”
This bill would authorize the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (“ABC”) to permit restaurants to serve alcohol in an expanded license area. The bill would also authorize the ABC to extend the period of time during which the COVID-19 permit is valid beyond 365 days if the licensee has applied for permanent expansion of their premises. The bill would make these provisions effective only until July 1, 2024, and repeal them as of that date.
On Tuesday, July 27, 2021, I spoke with Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel about the purpose of the bill and the legislative response so far. Excerpts of our conversation are included below:
Nair: What is the purpose of AB 61?
Assemblymember Gabriel: AB 61 demonstrates a firm commitment to help the restaurant industry. We are trying to provide the regulatory flexibility to help these businesses succeed. Even in the best of times, running a restaurant can be extremely challenging, so if there was ever a time to provide regulatory flexibility, this is it.
This bill anticipates outdoor dining as a long-term part of the California landscape. Can you talk about why it was structured that way?
I see outdoor dining as a lifeline for restaurants in the near future. I understand that setting up outdoor dining facilities has required restaurants to put in a significant investment, and AB 61 seeks to give them some certainty that outdoor dining will be permitted into the future.
What has the response to AB 61 been in the legislature so far?
AB 61 has received overwhelming, bi-partisan support. Irrespective of political party and the region of California they represent, state legislators understand how much the restaurant industry has suffered and want to do something to help.
How does AB 61 fit in with other federal and state relief measures for restaurants, including the stalled Restaurant Relief Fund from the federal government?
We see this as part of a multi-pronged approach to restaurant relief. As one prong, we have relief from the federal government through SBA programs. Another prong is general state small business grants and loans. This is the regulatory prong, to try to reduce some of the regulatory burden and extend the flexibility that we hope is going to increase sales and help restaurants get back on their feet.