EL PASO, Texas -- A group of Texas bar owners filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to overturn Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that closed their businesses to help contain the spread of the coronavirus in Texas.
Abbott has pinpointed the re-opening of bars last month as one of the sources behind a dramatic spike in new confirmed cases and hospitalizations that has made Texas a national hotspot in a virus resurgence.
"If I could go back and redo anything, it probably would have been to slow down the opening of bars, now seeing in the aftermath of how quickly the coronavirus spread in the bar setting," Abbott said during an interview with ABC-7 last week.
Abbott’s order shuttered establishments that make at least 51 percent of their revenue from alcohol sales. It also trimmed restaurant dining capacity from 75 percent to 50 percent.
The Texas Bar and NightClub Alliance (TBNA) was involved in bringing the legal action. In the lawsuit, bar owners argue that their rights have been “trampled” by Abbott while “thousands of businesses are on the brink of bankruptcy.”
The suit alleges Abbott doesn’t have the authority under the state constitution to make such an order, and that it targets bars while allowing other establishments, such as hair and nail salons and tattoo studios to remain open.
“The lawsuit is to show that if you come to the front door of the restaurant and someone says would you like to wait in the bar or would you care to be seated for dinner? There is no delineation between that bar and this bar, The Blind Pig, that I am sitting at on 6th Street. They are identical and should both be allowed to operate,” said Bob Woody, an El Paso bar owner who is a member of the TBNA board
He added, “We see that restaurants and bars, if you operate within the guidelines, why would you shut one down and not the other? It’s a double standard.”
Woody told ABC-7 that TBNA represents about 600 businesses around the state. “It’s an unfair situation and problem but give us the same rights that the restaurants have,” Woody said.
El Paso's Rockin’ Cigar Bar & Grill owner Frank Ricci Jr. recently joined TBNA and had his bar added to the lawsuit.
“What Texas has done, we feel our rights have been trampled on,” Ricci Jr. said.
“[Gov. Abbott] just cut our heads off and shut us off from facilitating business,” Ricci told ABC-7. “ I think the governor and the state of Texas needs to be held accountable for interfering with our livelihoods.”
Ricci said he was happy when he realized there was a voice for bar owners in Texas. “My hopes are that when the governor gets this go across the desk that to realize that this is too expensive these are constitutional issues they are very expensive and the governor will open his eyes and say we can't really blame the bars.”
The Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission said agents visited nearly 1,500 business across the state over the weekend to ensure compliance with Abbott’s order and found that 59 were still open. Of those, most agreed to immediately close and seven who didn’t had their licenses suspended for 30 days.
“If you are going to be closed for 30 days anyhow, why not go ahead and open? Why not show solidarity? Why not have TABC explain to you why you are being shut down. They really do not have the authority for this. The only authority they have is to fine you a thousand dollars a day,” Woody said.
But local bar owner Ricci Jr. is showing reservation.
“I was interested in doing that anyways. I don’t know what the consequences are. We don’t want to lose our license and we don’t want to go up against the city and the state,” he said.
Ricci Jr. said he will be re-opening his business for curbside pickup to patrons, but he will not be serving customers inside his establishment at this time.
A spokesman for Abbott did not immediately respond to a request from the Associated Press for comment on Monday.
The governor has previously said the actions of his executive order "are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and protect public health."