The Tavern League of Colorado, an organization that represents more than 200 businesses with on-premises liquor licenses, last week filed a lawsuit against Governor Jared Polis and Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, asking for the cap on bar capacity included in one of Polis's executive orders to be lifted. A day later, the group updated the suit, requesting that a Denver District Court judge issue a restraining order to stop the enforcement of Polis's new executive order mandating a 10 p.m. last call at bars and restaurants, as well as raise the 100-person capacity.
During a day-long hearing on July 29, attorneys for the Tavern League argued that there was no data supporting the 10 p.m. last call order, so it unfairly restricted the ability of establishments to make money during the last four hours that bars typically stay open. They also objected to limiting capacity to 100 guests because larger spaces can accommodate more people while maintaining social distancing requirements.
But on July 30, Denver District Judge Brian Whitney declined to issue that restraining order, instead ruling for the defendants.
His decision was a blow to bars and restaurants trying to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, when dining room closings, limited reopenings and other restrictions have caused drastically reduced revenue and layoffs throughout the state's hospitality industry. The judge determined that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had shown enough scientific evidence to justify keeping the executive orders in place, particularly considering the rise in COVID-19 cases among Coloradans between the ages of 20 and 29.
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Governor Polis's early-last-call order took effect on July 23 and was slated to continue for thirty days. That time period could change, though, based on rising or falling numbers of new COVID cases.
Here's a statement from Stephanie Fransen Hicks, executive director of the Tavern League of Denver:
Today did not go as we had hoped. Unfortunately, the state was given a shocking amount of deference in spite of a surprising lack of data to justify either the 10:00 p.m. cease of alcohol sales or the 50 person indoor capacity limit. Judge Whitney did acknowledge the arbitrary nature of 10:00 p.m. but ultimately sided with the CDPHE and Governor Polis. The Tavern League team did an exceptional job and I am so proud of our operators for having the courage to stand up and tell their stories. Colorado’s restaurants and bars have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and these two policies will have a direct impact on their ability to keep their doors open. Sadly, today did not provide any relief to these businesses already struggling to survive. We did not come to this decision lightly, but it was and continues to be the right thing to do to. Colorado businesses deserve transparency and accountability in the decisions that so affect their ability to provide for their families and serve their communities.
Whether the service industry is being used as a scapegoat, as the Tavern League claims, or public health and safety take precedence over profits has become a political line in the sand. But no matter which side you stand on, one thing is certain: You'd better keep an eye on the clock if you want to get your last round of drinks in before last call over the next few weeks — 10 p.m. sneaks up quickly.