A Positive, But Mixed Reception for Restaurants

Virginia’s restaurant and hospitality industry took a few lumps during the shortened legislative session. Fortunately, the industry walks away with big wins in a few critical arenas. Here is a look at the important legislation from this year’s crop of more than 40 bills that could have affected the Commonwealth’s restaurants.
First, we will take a look at the wins for our restaurants:
House Bill 1526: Performing Arts Facilities
DEFEATED, failed to report
This bill was an attempt to grant Performing Arts facilities preferential treatment over restaurants with regard to serving mixed beverages. As drafted, it would have created a new annual mixed beverage license with a different set of standards from those that apply to restaurants.  After passing the House, this bill met its fate in the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services, where it was defeated in committee on an 8-Nay to 6-Yea vote.
Senate Bill 1296: Food Tax Referendum Moratorium Following Failed Attempt.
PASSED, awaiting Governor’s signature
Senator Vogel sponsored this bill on behalf of the restaurant industry that places a 3-year moratorium on counties attempting to establish or increase a prepared food tax. Following a defeated attempt to raise or implement a prepared food and beverage tax, counties must wait three calendar years before attempting again (unless supported by a petition of 10 percent of registered county voters).
Senate Bill 956: County Food and Beverage Tax
DEFEATED, passed by indefinitely
This bill attempted to grant all counties in Virginia the authorization to levy a food and beverage tax within their jurisdiction and effectively removing the current referendum process in place. This bill was soundly defeated on a 13-Nay to 3-Yea vote in the first committee (Senate Committee on Finance) that heard it.
Senate Bill 1544: Food and Beverage Tax for York County
DEFEATED, failed to report
Another bill was filed regarding authorization of the food and beverage tax in Virginia, except this one was specific to York County. The bill would have allowed the county to gain authorization through a public hearing instead of a referendum. Its passage would have set a dangerous precedent in the state. Fortunately, the bill was met with a sound 10-Nay to 6-Yea vote in our favor as it was defeated in committee 10-6.
Budget for Health Inspection Fees
Both sides of the proposed state budget included a health inspection fee increase of nearly 600 percent, from $40 to $275/annually. VRLTA successfully fought to have these increases in the House. The Senate budget still includes the increase at the time of publishing. Legislators continue to seek opportunities to increase revenues, but we feel these increases should never exploit a single industry and will continue to fight to have this increase removed.
And now, a look at some bills disrupting the Virginia restaurant industry:
House Bill 1743: Non-Profit Cinema ABC License
PASSED, awaiting Governor’s signature
This bill creates a new “non-profit cinema house” ABC license allowing for the sale of wine and beer in non-profit movie theatres with no food service requirement. This is unfair competition against restaurants that must sell food and discriminates against for-profit movie theatres that must serve food to obtain an ABC license.
Senate Bill 970: Updated Food-to-Beverage Ratio Requirements
DEFEATED, failed to report
This bill, put forth by Senator Bill DeSteph, would have updated the antiquated food-to-beverage ratio creating two distinct criteria for mixed beverage restaurant, caterer’s, or limited caterer’s licenses. The first, for licensees with monthly food sales of at least $4,000 but less than $10,000, the food-to-beverage would have reduced to 35 percent. The second, for licensees with monthly food sales of at least $10,000, the food-to-beverage ratio would be eliminated.
Thank you to all of our restaurants that support us throughout the year on all these key issues. Your support is a critical piece to our efforts to fight for the rights of our restaurants and a level playing field.
Lastly, a big thank you to all our member restaurants who participated in our Third Annual Taste of VRLTA Legislative Reception on January 25 in Richmond. We continue to hear from legislators who look forward to our reception each year.
by Eric D. Terry
ERIC TERRY is president of the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association.

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