The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has suspended the permits of 17 bars, including four in North Texas, after checks to see if the establishments were following protocols to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The suspensions occurred as part of Operation Safe Open, which began Friday with TABC inspections of more than 200 bars.
The TABC issued emergency orders for a 30-day alcohol permit suspension at Marty's Live and Harris' House of Heroes in Dallas and The New PR's and The Cantina in Fort Worth.
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Two of the four North Texas bars cited for violating TABC regulations relating to occupancy and social distancing said they planned to challenge the suspension of their alcohol permit.
Attorneys for both Harris’ House of Heroes and The New PR’s said they believed the action taken against them was unconstitutional.
“The 30-day suspension, it is going to just kill my clients business,” attorney Billy Clark, who represents Harris’ House of Heroes, said.
Clark said the bar was cited based on an incident when patrons who were seated outside retreated to covered areas when it started to rain Saturday.
"Regardless of inclement weather—my client does not arbitrarily violate the rules," attorney Billy Clark said in a statement Sunday to NBC 5. "If the capacity was over the limit then extenuating IMMEDIATE (sic) circumstances may have led to an increase above the 75% capacity requirement currently in effect."
Clark said the bar was unable to dispute the order from the TABC and "demanded" Gov. Greg Abbott rescind the 30-day suspension.
An attorney for PR's issued the following statement Sunday.
"Without opportunity to be heard, today PR’s Saloon’s permit was suspended predicated upon an alleged violation of the occupancy restrictions of Governor Abbott’s Executive Order No. GA-26. But, this executive order is itself unconstitutional for violating the separation-of-powers doctrine. Under the Texas Constitution, the Legislature – not Governor Abbott – has the exclusive authority to enact or suspend laws, even if Governor Abbott calls the 'law' an executive order. Regardless, my client denies the allegation but is pleased to announce that last night’s event raised $7,000.00 for FWPD Officer Brazeal who recently sustained catastrophic injuries while in the line of duty."
The TABC defended its undercover operations and subsequent enforcement decisions, saying it visited hundreds of businesses across the state and are only handing out citations to those found in the violation.
“The goal here is to illustrate to Texas business owners what is at stake, not just health and safety but your livelihood,” TABC spokesperson Chris Porter said.
The first 10 seconds of a video posted to the TABC Facebook page shows the crowd at Marty's Live, according to the agency. In the clip, people are gathered close together in the bar.
Other bars across the state found to be in violation of TABC protocols were Buford's Backyard Beer Garden, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Icehouse, UnBARlievable (West 6th) and Soho Lounge in Austin; Coconuts and Werk Bar in El Paso; Handlebar Houston in Houston; Siete Banderas in Laredo; Electric Cowboy in Longview; Little Woodrow's in Lubbock; Elevate Night Club in McAllen; Burnhouse in San Antonio; and BARge 295 in Seabrook.
"Protecting the health and safety of Texans during this pandemic is our top priority," TABC Executive Director Bentley Nettles said in a written statement. "We warned businesses TABC will have no tolerance for breaking the rules, and now, some bars are paying the price. I hope other establishments will learn from these suspensions."
Of the more than 3,000 locations inspected statewide over the last month, the TABC has said that most are following the rules.
The agency is enforcing requirements including indoor customer capacity limits of 50% for bars and 75% for restaurants, as well as at least 6 feet of distance between groups of customers.
The first infraction will result in a 30-day license suspension and the second carries an up to 60-day suspension, according to the TABC.
*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.
**County totals below include all 32 North Texas counties, not just Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant.