Florida’s top regulator promising stricter enforcement of bars

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Happy hour has taken on a whole new meaning for Florida bar and brewery owners.

On Monday, bars in the state were able to reopen their taps, as long as they operate at 50% of their facility’s indoor capacity.

During the three weeks bars were allowed open in June, the state relied on complaints it received and then sent agents to investigate for violations.

In an interview Tuesday with Capitol News Service, Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears promised a different approach to enforcement this time around.

“So we are going to police this thing very hard, differently this time, upfront,” Beshears said.

Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears (Capitol News Service)

This time, agents will be on the streets nightly, proactively looking for violations.

“We’re going to be out policing, being active on that,” Beshears said.

Those who ignore the 50% indoor occupancy rule could quickly be out of business.

“You know, some bar owners are gonna open up regardless. They think they’re gonna pack it in. And we’re gonna continue to police those who do not want to operate within the emergency order and we’re going to take their license,” Beshears said.

Brewer Byron Burroughs likes the new approach.

“Because, invariably, you’re going to have bad operators out there that aren’t following the rules, and that’s bad for everybody that has been and is following the rules,” said Burroughs, who owns Proof Brewing Company in the state’s capital city.

To help limit contact, customers at Burroughs' business will scan a code attached to every table. That will them get a menu and help them avoid touching something that someone else may have handled.

The windows of Proof Brewing Company are also filled with health information, a warning about social distancing guidelines and a waiver telling customers, by entering, they assume the risk of getting the coronavirus.

“It’s basically saying, ‘Yes, we’re going to do everything we can do to protect you, but there is still an element of risk,’” Burroughs said.

A total of nine licenses were suspended during the three weeks bars were open in June.

The state’s top regulator wouldn’t speculate on whether stronger enforcement this time will result in more suspensions.

Beshears also noted that the big test will be how well bars and breweries handle any crowds this weekend, which will be the first weekend bars will have been open in nearly three months.