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State seeks citizens’ help in policing bars

Florida Division of Business and Professional Regulation sets date of July 16 to reconsider bar closure order

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It’s going to be at least 10 more days before the state even considers allowing bars to reopen in Florida, and that’s a big “if.”

An alert citizen’s video resulted in Bajas Beachclub bar in Tallahassee having its license suspended for violating the state’s on-premises closure order. A second license was also suspended in Orlando.

“It is impossible to police 20 million across the state with 140 ABT (Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco) officers more or less,” said Florida Division of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears.

Since the June 26 order, the state has received 625 citizen complaints.

“We follow up with an ABT agent, and the next day, we try and go back at the time the complaint was filed,” Beshears said. “So we try and go at the time we think that violation may occur.”

The agency has set a date of July 16 to reconsider the bar closure order.

“There was a direct correlation, we thought, from the time the governor opened the bars to the spike,” Beshears said. “So we felt like, after three weeks, hopefully, we could see those numbers arrested or that flatline.”

But with more than 7,300 new COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday in Florida, the likelihood of reopening that soon is declining.

“The next step is, if we don’t see a drop in those numbers, maybe it is the restaurants are next,” Beshears said.

On the day the bar closure was ordered, Restaurant and Lodging Association CEO Carol Dover warned her members they could be next.

“So we better pay attention. It’s 50% (capacity),” said Dover.

But Beshears said it’s not an action the state wants to take.

“This thing isn’t prejudiced toward anyone. It is an equal opportunity terrorist toward everybody who’s out there in business right now,” Beshears said.

The secretary added local sheriffs have been especially helpful in pointing out violators.

Complaints can be filed online here. Those filings are asked to be specific and include photos of violations when possible.