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Source: Press release by Legislative Press and Public Information Bureau

The Senate today approved two measures to strengthen Rhode Island’s restaurant industry as the pandemic stretches toward the two-year mark.

The bills, which now head to the House of Representatives, will permanently allow restaurants and brewpubs to sell wine, beer and mixed drinks with takeout food orders and extend a provision that temporarily allows restaurants to offer outdoor dining.

The first bill (2022-S 2153), sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Hanna M. Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick), eliminates a March 1 sunset date on the law allowing takeout drinks, permanently allowing any Class B liquor license holders and brewpubs to sell certain amounts of beer, wine and mixed drinks with take-out food order. The provision was originally enacted to help restaurants weather the pandemic, and has proven popular, helpful to the industry and safe. The bill applies only to take-out orders, not delivery.

“Our restaurant industry includes so many treasured small businesses that make Rhode Island the special place that is. They need every available tool to survive the pandemic. Take-out drinks have helped them stay afloat, bring in a little more revenue, and keep paying their employees and supporting our economy,” said Senator Gallo. “They’ve also been popular with consumers, and have helped entice them to order out more often. Restaurants and consumers have shown that takeout drinks can be handled very responsibly, so we have every reason to make them a permanent feature of our state’s restaurant scene.”

The second bill (2022-S 2134), sponsored by Sen. Alana M. DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown), allows restaurants to continue approved outdoor dining during the pandemic. It would extend a moratorium on the enforcement of any municipal ordinance or zoning requirement that would penalize owners of food service establishments and bars for any modifications or alternations to their premises in response to an emergency declaration by the governor or local municipal officials.

“This bill is essential to our restaurants and bars that are still struggling to recover from the effects of the pandemic,” said Senator DiMario. “The legislation will also allow these establishments to apply to make these successful and popular changes permanent, such as the outdoor dining areas and takeout windows. Municipalities have given the feedback that they have not had enough time to get temporary zoning changes through their appropriate channels to make them permanent and that this extension is welcome.”

The moratorium would be effective until April 1, 2023.

Both bills now head to the House, where Rep. Jacquelyn Baginski (D-Dist. 17, Cranston) is sponsoring the House companion of the takeout drinks bill (2022-H 7209) and Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee (D-Dist. 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett) is sponsoring the outdoor dining bill’s companion (2022-H 7095). 

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