Sen. Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, Monday introduced legislation seeking to prohibit state agencies from revoking business licenses based on violations stemming from coronavirus public health lockdowns.

“Business owners are draining their finances to comply with COVID regulations, and the governor has continued to change the rules with no data to support his mandates,” Melendez said in submitting Senate Bill 102. “Now small businesses are facing fines and penalties as they try to stay afloat and keep their lifelong dreams alive.”

SB 102 would specifically block regulatory boards within the California Department of Consumer Affairs and the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control from suspending or revoking licenses and imposing financial penalties for entities’ non-compliance with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s public health orders.

The validity of the orders, which have been challenged in court and have not been legislatively approved, are also directly addressed in Melendez’s Senate Resolution 5, which calls for barring the state’s executive branch from creating further COVID-related regulations, which would instead be left to localities.

Among supporters of SB 102 and SR 5 is Andrew Gruel, a chef who last month gained national attention when he vowed to keep his Big Parm and Slapfish restaurants open in Los Angeles, in defiance of the governor’s Dec. 6 regional stay-at-home orders that included a halt to outdoor dining.

“When it comes to having our licenses revoked, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime,” Gruel said. “This is an overreach of authority that only creates more fear and loss in an industry that has been ravaged by the shutdowns. Each community should have the right to make its own local decisions.”

According to the California Department of Public Health, the shutdowns are in direct response to surging coronavirus caseloads and their impact on overwhelmed medical facilities.

“To reduce the risk of spreading the virus in restaurant settings, service is limited to takeout and delivery only,” according to a CDPH statement. “We have reached a point where COVID-19 is so widespread in California that activities once considered lower risk are high risk now, and that includes essential workplaces. This is not about which sector, situation or activity is riskier than another, it’s about the fact that we are urging Californians not to mix with other households for the safety of all Californians.”

Melendez joined nearly a dozen lawmakers last month in sending a letter to the governor, urging him to move restaurants into the “essential” category and permit them to operate with safeguards in place.

In her introduction of SB 102, she cited a National Restaurant Association figure indicating that 43% of eateries statewide are on the verge of dissolution.

“Californians are tired of being told they can’t go to work, and businesses owners are tired of being told to close their businesses for reasons not based on science,” she said. “Enough is enough; this unilateral control needs to come to an end.”

Incoming Riverside County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Karen Spiegel has openly declared that the county does not support ongoing lockdowns crippling businesses. She has been joined by Supervisors Jeff Hewitt and Kevin Jeffries. However, all of the supervisors have pointed out that most licensing power rests with the state.

The governor’s current regional stay-at-home order relies on ICU bed capacity as a key metric in whether lockdowns should be imposed. The 11-county Southern California region’s available ICU capacity is officially at 0%.

The order impacts bars, theaters, museums, hair salons, indoor recreational facilities, amusement parks and wineries — all of which are supposed to remain closed. As the CDPH noted, restaurants are confined to takeout and delivery services.

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