The Bulletin Board

Outdoor dining gets a push for permanence – with a catch

By: - April 27, 2021 5:38 pm
Outdoor tables at a restaurant

Under the amendment, restaurants would be able to use parking lots, sidewalks, patios, lawn areas, and even sections of the street to set up outside tables, provided local authorities give approval. (Photo by Maryland Matters)

As New Hampshire restaurants and bars gear up for a second summer of COVID-era outdoor dining – from parking lots to city side streets – some state lawmakers are pushing to make the option permanent.

A bill moving through the House would allow restaurants to “expand outside wherever an outdoor dining area can be set up safely,” a formal codification of an executive order signed by Gov. Chris Sununu last year.

An amendment to the bill, Senate Bill 155, would allow the arrangement to be permanent.

Under the amendment, restaurants would be able to use parking lots, sidewalks, patios, lawn areas, and even sections of the street to set up outside tables, provided local authorities give approval. Those with on-premise liquor licenses or wine licenses could also serve alcoholic beverages in the parking lot.

The House amendment, brought by Rep. Tim Baxter, a Hampton Falls Republican, goes further than the Senate version of the bill, which extended the outdoor options to 2023.

It’s a provision with wide support, some lawmakers say.

“The climate of Paris isn’t that much different, and they have a lot more eating spaces than we do,” said Rep. Carol McGuire, an Epsom Republican and the chairwoman of the House Executive Departments and Administration Committee, which heard the bill. “It’s something a lot of people want.”

But Baxter’s amendment also includes a prohibition on COVID-19 vaccination requirements by businesses and public entities, a controversial component that could complicate its passage.

The amendment would create a new chapter in New Hampshire law that would prohibit any corporation or nonprofit organization that receives state funds from mandating that its employees be vaccinated. That amendment would also ban vaccine “passports” from being implemented in the state.

“The persons and entities subject to this chapter are prohibited from discriminating against persons based on non-receipt of the COVID-19 vaccine or failure to possess a COVID-19 immunity passport, immunity pass, or any other documentation for certifying vaccination or immunity status,” the statute reads.

The committee heard testimony on Baxter’s amendment Tuesday afternoon. Members will vote on the amendment at a later date.

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel.

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