In a significant move towards shaping the future of outdoor dining in Rhode Island, the House of Representatives has given its approval to legislation (2024-H 7064A) sponsored by Representative Carol Hagan McEntee. The legislation, introduced by Chairwoman McEntee, establishes clear standards for municipalities to regulate outdoor dining, aiming to make the popular practice a permanent feature in the Ocean State.
Representative McEntee, who chairs the House Small Business Committee, has been instrumental in introducing various laws promoting outdoor dining since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recognizing the positive impact of outdoor dining during the challenging pandemic period, she emphasized its role in bringing communities together and providing a lifeline for countless restaurants and eateries facing uncertainties brought on by COVID-19.
“In the dark days of the pandemic, expansion of outdoor dining across the state proved to be a bright spot that brought our communities back together on those warm summer nights to enjoy one of Rhode Island’s finest assets – our culinary and hospitality community,” said Representative McEntee (D-Dist. 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett). She stressed the economic significance of outdoor dining, noting that making it a permanent practice would ensure the continued enjoyment of this beloved activity while supporting the state’s tourism and hospitality industries.
The approved bill empowers municipalities to adopt ordinances regulating outdoor dining on public property. These ordinances may address aspects such as the limitation of outdoor dining capacity, restrictions on outdoor dining in certain areas, and the requirement of barriers for outdoor dining areas adjacent to parking lots or roadways.
However, the legislation imposes certain limitations on municipalities. They are prohibited from passing ordinances that entirely prohibit outdoor dining, restrict the time of year when outdoor dining may be offered, hinder outdoor dining operations’ hours inconsistent with the food service establishment’s existing licensure, or impose new parking capacity standards on a food service establishment for an outdoor dining area.
The legislation will now advance to the Senate for consideration, where Senator Alana M. DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown, New Shoreham) has introduced a corresponding bill (2024-S 2028A). Senator DiMario’s bill is scheduled for a Senate vote later this week, marking another step toward potentially establishing permanent standards for outdoor dining regulation in Rhode Island.
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