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Restaurant association to challenge ban on dining in

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The New Mexico Restaurant Association says it’s disappointed that it was not included in talks with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham before she ordered that restaurants must once again be prohibited from offering dine-in service.

The organization plans to request a court order Monday that would allow restaurants to continue dine-in services, saying the ban will affect thousands of food service workers.

The NMRA’s CEO, Carol Wight, said there is no evidence that restaurants are causing the spread of COVID-19. She says the restaurant industry is being unfairly punished.

“Governor, our industry is angry and devastated at the moment,” the said in a letter NMRA sent to Lujan Grisham last week. “Thoughts of non-compliance with your order, to statewide protests, to lawsuits, are picking up momentum. We believe we can forgo those activities by working together with you as we had before your latest decision.”

Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for the Governor’s Office, said in an email that the order is not intended to punish restaurants, and is instead the “unavoidable consequence of New Mexicans continuing to conduct themselves in a way that continues to spread COVID-19 throughout the state.”

“Everyone is suffering the effects of this deadly virus, and we have to do everything we can to slow the spread of it,” she said. “Restaurant owners are prominent members of their communities and must, like all of us, do everything they can to save lives.”

The ban on indoor dining was lifted in June, but an increase in COVID-19 cases caused the state to close indoor seating again, starting Monday. Outdoor seating is still allowed at 50% capacity, as are delivery and curbside pickup.

The NMRA has coordinated a protest at 2 p.m. Monday during which restaurants are encouraged to take photos of employees who may have to be laid off under the new restrictions. The photos will then be shared on the NMRA’s Facebook page, Wight said.

The NMRA’s letter asked Lujan Grisham to postpone the ban on indoor dining until July 20 so that people who may lose their jobs have more notice. The letter also expressed disappointment that the restaurant industry was not invited to take part in any discussions.

“We believe and still do, that we could offer solutions and ways to accommodate your concerns short of shutting down dine-in services,” the letter says.

Antonia Roybal-Mack, a legal representative for the NMRA, said the group will file a request seeking a court order halting the new prohibition Monday, after Lujan-Grisham signs the new public health order.

Wight told the Journal on Sunday that she believed restaurants were being treated unfairly under the public health orders.

“Most restaurants were doing things the right way, and she punished all of us for a few doing things wrong,” Wight said.

Wight said a lot of restaurant workers will have to be laid off again, and she believes more restaurants will close permanently.

“I have restaurants calling me, weeping because they’re not going to be able to come back from this, and it breaks my heart,” she said.

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