Minnesota businesses that broke COVID rules seek amnesty

“What is being done is illegal and unconstitutional and I must do what is in my right for my employees and my clients,” Moss said in December.

The opening had almost immediate ramifications. A state agency suspended the establishment’s liquor license, and the attorney general’s office decided to impose fines and recover any money brought in during the four days that Boardwalk was poorly open. A court case is still pending.

Boardwalk attorney Marshall Tanick said in an interview in May that rescinding penalties like the one his client is facing would help end the COVID ordeal.

“This has been a very volatile issue, which has not only political ramifications but also social and economic ramifications,” Tanick said. “And I think the right thing to do is to waive all the fines and penalties that have been imposed.”

The amnesty request for coronavirus rule violators – restaurants, gyms, event centers and more – is mired in deliberations on a new state budget ahead of a special session due to meet this month. It faces stiff opposition from lawmakers who argue that those who broke the rules did so in full awareness of the penalties they could face and that the actions endangered public health.

Affected businesses are expected to know within the next two weeks whether lawmakers will step in.

Republicans in the Minnesota Senate have been pushing to overturn sanctions on any company that did not adhere to executive orders from Governor Tim Walz that he said were aimed at mitigating the spread of the virus. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka raised the sanctions waiver in private negotiations with Walz and leaders of the DFL-controlled House.

“There were small businesses that were very frustrated and didn’t know if they were going to make it,” Gazelka said recently. “It’s an opportunity as we come out of the pandemic to just remove these sanctions and let everyone get back to normal. I think that would send a powerful message that we’re completely back and we’ve been through this. “

In public, Walz has not completely closed the door to clemency. But he said there had to be consequences for those who thumbed their noses at orders. He points out that enforcement measures have been taken against only a small number of companies.

Of all the regulated companies in Minnesota, Walz said, “99.98% (percentage) complied without even written notice. It’s a much smaller number that has already received a citation for it. I think it’s worth noting that the good actors did this. These things were confirmed by the court to be legal.

The Department of Public Security was one of the organizations that had a role to play in enforcing the rules. Officers from the Alcoholism and Gambling Control Division made more than 1,300 site visits and issued 18 warning letters. That’s about 6,500 licensed bars and restaurants in Minnesota.

Among those who had to be warned, only eight establishments had their liquor license suspended or revoked, these actions having resulted in settlements or confirmed by administrative law judges.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has damaged lives and livelihoods just as much as a tornado, flood or earthquake. Such calamities can quickly destroy years of effort spent building a business, brand, and customer base. Boardwalk’s woes are very real, ”Administrative Judge Eric Lipman wrote as he confirmed the restaurant’s 60-day suspension of liquor license. Likewise, the governor’s legal power is clear to issue decrees governing the occupation of structures in emergencies and for AGED to punish licensees who violate local liquor license restrictions. “

The Minnesota Department of Health has taken action against nearly three dozen restaurants, imposing administrative fines of up to $ 10,000 and requesting the suspension or revocation of operating licenses in most cases. The agency has settled with about 15, and there are four active prosecutions.

The health department has been tracking outbreaks in the hospitality industry through COVID-19 contact tracing, which depends on infected people voluntarily discussing how they moved before and after their diagnosis.

Only three of the restaurants sanctioned for violating service rules have experienced outbreaks linked to their establishments.

The attorney general’s office has been called in to help in several cases, either to seek injunctions or to enforce sanctions. DFL Attorney General Keith Ellison said despite the attention the scofflaws received, cases that resulted in fines were rare. Even in cases where civil penalties were imposed, most of those penalties were suspended or reduced if the company changed course.

“Most people have complied. The ones that didn’t comply, we called them and they voluntarily complied after a phone call, ”Ellison said. “The ones we had to sue?” A very small percentage.

Ellison said erasing the slate would send the wrong message.

“I think this is a slap in the face to anyone who went out of their way to protect their neighbors and co-workers and customers and employees from COVID and who obeyed the restrictions,” he said.

He said the general amnesty could also undermine action taken by his office against homeowners who have improperly evicted tenants despite a still intact moratorium.

Minneapolis attorney Davis Senseman represents several restaurants and retail outlets that have also battled restrictions related to the pandemic. But she said her customers were following the rules to minimize exposure to viruses.

She said letting violators off the hook would also mean they would have to keep the loot running normally when their rivals couldn’t.

“So you are definitely ahead. There has been no inconvenience for you, ”said Senseman. “And so we have completely urged you to do what and ignore any laws in place that you don’t agree with.”

In the case of Boardwalk in East Grand Forks, Moss submitted an affidavit to the court claiming she lost $ 9,300 after paying staff and covering other overheads while the cafe went rogue.

Tanick, the restaurant’s lawyer, said this was on top of the losses from months of service restrictions.

“It’s a matter of fairness and compassion and putting this matter to rest and moving forward more productively that any kind of fine or other kind of penalty is put aside,” he said. -he declares.

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