A group of New York business owners have filed a lawsuit against the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) over what they call “unconstitutional” shutdowns of their business operations as a precaution amid COVID-19.
The group, which includes bar owners and venue operators who host live music as a part of their draw for patrons, say the SLA’s ban on ticketed events, advertised events, and collecting cover charges to pay entertainers in their establishments, amounts to a violation of their First Amendment rights of free speech.
“My clients and the vast majority of the food service industry have done their best to comply with each and every rule and request of the Governor and his agencies in order to provide a safe environment for the public,” said Jonathan Corbett, a Los Angeles, Calif.-based attorney for bar and venue owners, who filed the lawsuit on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
“However, the industry has received no financial support from the state, and the cost of complying with rules that change on a near daily basis is destroying the industry. It is predicted that one in three food service establishments in the state will never reopen as a result. The rule we challenged — a ban on advertising music and charging admission — simply makes no sense. When all establishments are requiring seated table service, limited capacities, and social distancing, announcing the music selection or having a cover charge simply does not contribute to the spread of coronavirus,” he added.
State authorities counter that their rules related to live entertainment events are driven solely by data showing that banning such events has played a key role in the state’s recovery from being the early epicenter of the coronavirus in the United States.
“New Yorkers must remember we are still fighting a global pandemic, and that limiting mass gatherings is one of the best tools in our arsenal to stop the spread and protect our progress,” an SLA spokesperson told SILive.com.
New York has seen by far the most deaths related to COVID-19 in the United States, with 32,987 recorded thus far. At its peak in April, the state was seeing close to 1,000 deaths per day attributed to the disease, but numbers have fallen off dramatically since spring, with many artists and venue owners hoping to see the state allow them to resume performances.
“The common sense factor in this New York debacle has become so far overshadowed by political gain and control, that logic has gone straight out the window,” says Billy Kohout, lead singer of a band that regularly performs in New York.
“We abide by the rules they put into play, only to have those same rules changed at the midnight hour… This convoluted reasoning is driving businesses, nightclubs, professional working musicians, and artists with families bankrupt in both spirit, and in the wallet. If we ‘the people’ do not stand up and unite as one, take back what we are losing, and what we’ve already lost, the music will figuratively and literally die forever,” added Kohout.