At least 20 Arkansas bars have filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming a recently-imposed curfew discriminates against their businesses.
The lawsuit, says The Fayetteville Flyer, was registered last week in Pulaski County. Filed by Little Rock attorney Gary Barnett, the complaint accuses Arkansas authorities of acting “arbitrarily” in enacting an order that demands certain establishments cease business operations by 11pm each night.
Barnett and his clients noted that bars were the only type of business regulated by the curfew.
While many other states have imposed similar restrictions on bars and dine-in restaurants, the Arkansas suit alleges that the emergency order “[does] not contain any factual, data driven or other basis for regulating the peak hours of the facilities.”
According to The Fayetteville Flyer, the lawsuit made several evidentiary assertions. For instance, it reprints a graph—published by the Arkansas Health Department on November 18th—which shows active coronavirus cases across the state around the same date bar-specific restrictions took effect.
Intriguingly, the department’s own data suggests that—of all the active coronavirus patients in the state—only 37 said they had recently visited a bar. The same chart found that thousands more had been inside public schools and retail establishments, while hundreds had recently patronized churches and indoor gyms.
The state’s curfew had initially been set to expire January 3rd, but was extended at least another month.
While the Arkansas Department of Health has yet to comment on the lawsuit, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has defended his rules. Pressed by a journalist as to whether Arkansas should maintain restrictions on businesses not shown to exacerbate the spread of coronavirus, Hutchinson said he’s waiting to see results before making any big decisions.
“Well, if you use that logic, there’s not any reason to keep our restaurants at two-thirds capacity if our cases our going up, so why not let them go full capacity?” Hutchinson asked. “That doesn’t make any sense to me, either.
“In terms of the bars, I’d love to talk to the contact tracers,” he said. “That is why we only extended it for thirty days. If we see that’s not necessary, I’ll be the first one that’ll be delighted to lift that [order].”
Dr. Jose Romero, Arkansas’ Health Secretary, told reporters at the same conference that, while bars may not substantially contribute to the spread of novel coronavirus, the purpose of the state’s orders is to keep unnecessary socialization to a minimum.
“The 11pm curfew is a way of decreasing socialization,” Romero said. “Alcohol and COVID don’t mix. Your ability to make correct decisions goes down in a social environment, right, so we close the bars earlier, we remove people from those environments, and we try to decrease it in those settings.”
But Hannah Withers, plaintiff and owner of Maxine’s Tap Room in Fayetteville, told the Flyer bars and other such establishments have suffered disproportionately due to Arkansas’ “arbitrary” restrictions.
“This is not a partisan issue,” Withers told the Flyer, “this is an industry issue.”
“Most [bars] are hovering around 25% occupancy for the last several months to account for social distancing, and we’ve lost $22,000 of sales in the last six weeks on top of that since the curfew was enacted,” Withers added. “To extend the curfew during one of our slowest times of year, particularly when it seems like there is no rhyme or reason to it, it just seems like our industry is being a scapegoat in all this.”