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The Massachusetts Senate Continues to Ignore the Restaurant Relief Act

The bill — which would allow takeout cocktails, cap third-party delivery fees, and help restaurants in several other ways — has been stalled in the Senate for a month. Why?

A stock photograph of a bicycle holding two red Grubhub food delivery insulated bags
Third-party delivery app fees would be capped as a result of the passing of the bill, which would also allow for takeout cocktails and other means of restaurant relief.

Restaurant operators across Massachusetts are still waiting on the state Senate to take a vote on the Restaurant Relief Act.

Officially referred to as House Bill 4774, which is titled “An Act Addressing the Challenges Faced by Food and Beverage Establishments Resulting from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” the bill would provide much-needed financial relief to restaurant operators.

If passed, the Relief Act would expedite the process associated with outdoor dining permitting, allow restaurants to sell to-go cocktails with takeout orders, remove interest and penalties restaurants may incur by failing to pay state meals taxes on time through the end of 2020, and cap third-party delivery fees at 15 percent.

The Massachusetts House of Representatives voted on the bill nearly a month ago, passing it unanimously by a vote of 156-0.

After passing the bill, the House referred it to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, where it has remained since June 4, 2020. According to its website, the Senate has met 11 times since June 4. Gov. Baker said recently that he supports the bill.

Restaurants are stuck operating without much-needed economic relief as long as the bill remains parked in the Committee on Ways and Means. So, why hasn’t the Senate voted on the bill yet?

Eater spoke with several employees inside the Massachusetts Senate, but no one could say with any certainty when the Senate planned to vote on the bill.

An employee at the Committee on Ways and Mean office told Eater that the COVID-19 pandemic has made scheduling Senate hearings more difficult than normal, but that the Senate is considering the bill seriously as a way by which to help small businesses that are struggling throughout the state due to the pandemic.

Massachusetts has done reasonably well compared to many other states at containing the COVID-19 outbreak, but it’s impossible to predict whether cases will surge again, as they have in some parts of the country. If cases do surge in Massachusetts, Gov. Baker may have no other choice but to reinstate certain restrictions, including another temporary moratorium on indoor (and perhaps even outdoor) dining.

In that scenario, restaurants will need all the economic support they can get in order to remain afloat. By voting to pass the Restaurant Relief Act, the Massachusetts Senate could mitigate at least some of the economic stressors currently facing restaurant owners and workers. By continuing to not do so, the Senate suggests it does not grasp the gravity of the moment.

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