The Austin Chronicle

TABC to Texas Restaurants: Comply With State Vaccine Law and We Got No Beef

By Beth Sullivan, August 27, 2021, News

The dust continues to settle in the wake of recent reports that two local restaurants walked back proof of COVID-19 vaccination requirements for in-person dining after being notified that such measures violated Texas Senate Bill 968.

Following Austin's move earlier this month to Stage 5 of local pandemic precautions, sister restaurants Fresa's and Launderette briefly required patrons to provide proof of vaccination for indoor dining. Days later, however, the establishments announced they had terminated those requirements after receiving word from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Com­mission that their policies weren't allowed under Sec­tion 14 of SB 968 ("No Mask, No Vax, No Entry? The Battle Between Local and State Leaders Continues," News, Aug. 20).

The bill prohibits private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination for entry or to provide services, and also outlines that the appropriate state agency – which is TABC in the case of restaurants and bars – may require compliance with such provisions as a condition for a license, permit, or other state authorization. No Texas business licensed by TABC has had its license canceled or suspended due to noncompliance with SB 968 as of Aug. 17, a TABC spokesperson told us. The agency has been notified about three licensed locations in the Austin area for issues related to SB 968, including the aforementioned restaurants and the Paramount Theatre. According to the spokesperson, TABC reached out to representatives at each of the establishments and all agreed to comply with the law. They added, "TABC has never threatened to pull a business' liquor license for noncompliance with SB 968, nor has that been our policy to do so."

But never say never. The agency's spokesperson said any license cancellations or suspensions are a "last resort which would follow multiple violations." Even then, the business would still be entitled to a hearing to contest TABC's decision. "While TABC has a duty to enforce the law, we want businesses to understand that the agency will work to help them operate safely while complying with SB 968. The agency's goal is not to penalize businesses, but rather to provide them the opportunity to voluntarily comply before any further action is needed."

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