PROVIDENCE — Initiatives to move business outdoors may be here to last. Governor Dan McKee signed legislation into law that will allow restaurants to continue to use COVID-19 modifications, including outdoor dining.
The legislation imposes a moratorium on the enforcement of any municipal ordinance or zoning requirement that penalizes owners for those modifications. The moratorium will last until April 1, 2022.
McKee previously signed the bill into law earlier this month after it passed the General Assembly, but the governor hosted a bill signing ceremony on Monday in Narragansett.
“As we work toward operating fully while keeping health and safety best practices in place, making approved outdoor dining easier provides welcome additional space during the summer months and beyond,” said Dale Venturini, chief executive of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association.
The new law, which was first introduced by South Kingstown Democrat Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, will also allow businesses to apply to make their changes permanent.
McEntee said that Rhode Island’s restaurants are consistently ranked as one of the state’s best assets, and that the industry was “truly decimated” by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While many businesses have sadly closed their doors for good, our hospitality industry has adapted and many restaurants and other businesses have invested great sums of money in order to continue operating in a safe manner for the public,” said McEntee, who is also the chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee.
She said most businesses “would be running afoul” of their local zoning laws once the state’s emergency declaration is lifted, and that this legislation is a change for these small businesses to earn back the losses they have incurred over the past year.
McEntee added, “We owe them all that much.”
Mirroring legislation was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Alana M. DiMario, a Narragansett Democrat. DiMario said that both outdoor dining and takeout windows should be adapted to the “new normal,” starting during this “summer of recovery.”
“These small businesses need and deserve to continue with the operations that allowed them to survive over the past 18 months,” she said.