Judge upholds statewide alcohol sales curfew for now

A Franklin County judge on Wednesday refused to block a statewide 10 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales in bars and restaurants while a lawsuit over the restriction continues.

A group of 21 Columbus-area bars, restaurants and individuals filed a lawsuit Tuesday, Aug. 4, in Franklin County Common Pleas Court seeking to overturn the statewide curfew on alcohol sales. But after a hearing Wednesday morning in Columbus, Judge Kim Brown refused the bar and restaurant owners’ request for a temporary restraining order to put the ban on hold until the full case is heard.

The judge cited the state’s right to restrict alcohol sales in denying the request for a restraining order, news outlets in Columbus reported.

The curfew, which took effect Friday, was ordered by Gov. Mike DeWine and approved by the Ohio Liquor Control Commission to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to help ease the coronavirus pandemic. Both DeWine and the liquor-control commission are named as defendants in the lawsuit, which sought the temporary restraining order to block enforcement of the new rule. The case will now turn to the bar owners’ full arguments that the order unfairly singles out bars and restaurants that are following all safety guidelines and violates the Ohio Constitution.

The lawsuit said there is no evidence that the safeguards bars and restaurants put in place are effective at 9:59 p.m. but ineffective at 10:01 p.m. “The power afforded to governments to address public health and safety issues is not limitless. The rights secured by the Ohio Constitution do not disappear during a public-health crisis,” the lawsuit says.

The bar and restaurant owners who joined the lawsuit “genuinely believe their businesses may cease to exist” if the curfew is allowed to stay in place, given the precarious position that the pandemic has forced upon bars and restaurants statewide, the lawsuit said.

But in a strongly worded response from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office on behalf of DeWine and the Ohio Liquor Commission, state attorneys said the lawsuit is based on “simply partisan, personal opposition to the steps the state of Ohio has taken to protect its citizens from the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The bottom line, the state’s attorneys said, is that “there is an ongoing pandemic causing death over the entire planet, and the dangers have become more pronounced over the course of the past few weeks. ... This crisis is real. It is deadly. And because of people who place their own financial gain above the lives of their brethren, it is getting worse.”

The case schedule suggests the lawsuit will stretch into at least August of 2021.

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