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DeSantis Offers No End To Florida Bar Shutdown

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
News Service of Florida
The Florida Channel
In reimposing the prohibition on on-site consumption June 26, state officials said non-compliance with the guidelines was too widespread to enforce.

Buying alcohol will remain a to-go-only option at Florida bars for the foreseeable future as coronavirus cases continue to spike.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Saturday the state isn’t changing a decision last month to reimpose a ban on bars selling alcohol for on-site consumption because of widespread non-compliance with coronavirus safety measures.

“So, right now, we're not making any changes, status quo,” DeSantis said while at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton. “We want to get this positivity rate down. We want to continue to, you know, hopefully see declining COVID-like illness visits at the (emergency departments). And then as we get in a more stable situation, then we'll take a look at it.”

During the appearance at the hospital and in other appearances during the past week, DeSantis  defended the state’s health response and his efforts to reopen businesses amid the surge in cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

Florida reported a record 15,300 new cases Sunday, bringing the total number of cases to 269,811. The state data also showed that 4,242 Florida residents had died from the virus.

DeSantis initially stopped bars and nightclubs from serving alcohol for on-site consumption as part of an emergency order on March 20 that was aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.

The order was lifted on June 5 in all but South Florida, which has been hit hardest by the pandemic. But while bars were allowed to start serving drinks again, the state limited indoor customer occupancy to 50 percent and allowed only table service.

In reimposing the prohibition on on-site consumption June 26, state officials said non-compliance with the guidelines was too widespread to enforce.

“I want them to be able to operate but I also want them to do it consistent with the step-by-step plan, and we just weren't able to get that done,” DeSantis said Saturday.

A group of bar owners filed a lawsuit July 3 against DeSantis in Volusia County circuit court over the ban on on-site drink sales, arguing it has effectively forced businesses to close.

Attorney Jacob Weil, representing one of the bar owners, told WESH in Orlando the order unfairly discriminates against bars, as establishments that serve food in conjunction with alcohol are able to remain open.

"All these bar owners are asking for is to be treated the same as the other similar restaurants and establishments that are being allowed to serve alcohol for on-premises consumption," Weil told the television station.

The state order doesn’t affect restaurants that derive less than half of their gross revenue from the sale of alcohol.

DeSantis’ comments Saturday came a day after Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears announced the suspension of alcoholic beverage licenses at “gentlemen’s clubs” in Panama City Beach and Orlando.

An emergency suspension order directed at Le Palace Otown in Orlando said violations occurred on at least three nights this month.

“Customers failed to observe social distancing guidelines and were in close proximity to each other and with adult performers,” the order said.

At Show-N-Tail in Panama City Beach, the order alleged that customers were not following social-distancing rules and on July 2 had been required to pay an entry fee that included a “free” alcoholic beverage.

The order said that because of the owner’s “disregard of the well-known dangers of COVID-19, it is likely that the suspended licensee will continue its harmful business practice and behavior.”

The state has announced four alcoholic licenses have been suspended since the on-site consumption ban was reimplemented.

Jim Turner is a reporter for the News Service of Florida.