Brunch Bill Approval Highlights Final Curtain in Albany on 2016 Legislative Session

The 2016 New York State legislative sessions wrapped late last month with major bills headed to the governor’s desk that will impact on New York City’s restaurant owners and operators. Here is what you need to know about what passed and how it affects the city’s foodservice operators.

The biggest victory is the so called “Brunch Bill” also known as bill number SO8140 sponsored by Senator  Andrew J. Lanza of Staten Island’s 24th District. The bill loosens restrictions on serving alcohol at restaurants on Sundays, allowing alcohol service beginning at ten am, two hours earlier than the previous law allowed. Additionally upstate New York operators may apply for a special permit up to twelve times in a calendar year to serve alcohol at eight am for a fee of thirty five dollars. That bill was passed with the efforts of the New York State Restaurant Association (NYSRA), who have lobbying efforts in New York City and at the state legislature in Albany. The organization has been spearheaded by CEO Melissa Fleischut since 2013 along with Government Affairs Director Jay Holland. The Association seeks to help restauranteurs succeed in running operations in New York, a task Fleischut says “can be incredibly challenging”. The NYSRA used unique lobbying tactics to garner support for the bill, including distributing “thousands of ‘Pass the Brunch Bill” beverage coasters to engage customers in the campaign”, per the association’s official press release.

Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, D-Buffalo, co-sponsored the bill saying the ban stemmed from old laws that no longer reflect the realities of life in 2016.“It’s one of many outdated Prohibition-era laws we have been trying to fix over the years,” Ryan said, referring to past efforts to make it easier to open craft beer breweries and spirit-makers.

A 19-member panel, the Alcohol Beverage Control Law Working Group, created by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to study changes to regulations released recommendations last week that include a change in the Sunday alcohol sales. The alcohol working group suggested two options for Sunday: Allow alcohol sales starting at 8 a.m. at restaurants and bars, similar to other days of the week, or establish a process in which businesses obtain special permits for the Sunday morning sales.

The panel used the Buffalo Bills football game played last year in London as an example of why the law should change. Because of the time difference, television coverage here started at 9:30 a.m. on a Sunday, yet restaurants and bars with patrons there to watch the game could not sell alcohol.

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The New York Giants play a London game at that time this season, and a similar situation arises with soccer fans, whose European matches are often televised in the United States on Sunday mornings, the panel noted in its report.

Other bills that passed which affect restaurants include a part of the state budget, bill A06006, which raises the minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour for certain parts of New York, albeit at a much slower phase in than originally proposed. According to Fleischut the association’s concern was that the wage was too high and the increase too fast. “The concern we were hearing from our members was that the proposal on the table was too high and too fast. We lobbied the legislatures to consider whether or not the could do something. They ended up compromising with different rates for different areas”. It will vary by region, however most New York businesses will pay their employees fifteen dollars an hour by around the end of 2019. The exceptions include some counties upstate where the wage will only rise to $12.50. The NYSRA opposed this bill and won what they called some “significant victories” such as locking in the cash wage for tipped food service workers to two-thirds of the state minimum and slowing the rate of increase in upstate counties. More information about how the bill could affect your county or area, the NYSRA has a geographical breakdown available at here.

The New York State Restaurant Association had major concerns about another part of the budget; the establishment of the what is being called the most comprehensive paid family leave in the country. Originally the onus to pay for the leave was to fall on the employers, however the bill was amended to shift the responsibility to employees through a paycheck deduction program. Taking that burden off of the employers was important to the NYSRA. “We were hearing from members is that they are concerned as to whether or not the leave would be paid for by the employer, which it does not. We felt that was a good way to go forward and compromise. We have two and a half years before this begins to phase in so we’ll wait to see how it all plays out”.

The last two bills include one that the NYSRA was able to block last year but passed with amendments this session. That was bill S00817B, sponsored by Senator Betty Little of the 45th district. This bill allows funeral homes to partner with caterers to provide incidental refreshments (not alcohol) in their businesses. Last year’s block bill would have allowed the serving of food without Department of Health (DOH) regulation. This year’s bill has strict rules preventing funeral homes from acting as restaurants or caterers. Per the NYSRA press release it passed both houses and could be signed by Governor Cuomo.

The final bill affecting New York City’s restaurant operators, Bill S04280A, sponsored by Senator James L Seward of New York’s 51st district, would have allowed ridesharing operations like Lift and Uber to operate in Upstate New York. The bill was blocked by the state assembly. The NYSRA came out strongly in favor of the bill, with Melissa Fleischut saying the association supports ridesharing “as a way to offer our customers safe transport to and from restaurants. Taxi service in upstate New York is unreliable in some areas and we want to provide customers more options to have a safe evening out at a restaurant”. The bill is near the top of the NYSRA’s agenda for the state assembly’s next legislative session.