Louisiana businesses get 'two strikes' on COVID compliance before penalties
Most Louisiana businesses that aren't complying with Gov. John Bel Edwards' COVID restrictions are getting two warnings before Louisiana Fire Marshal deputies and Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control agents take action against them.
"We created a matrix that kind of fundamentally works on a three strikes and you're out," Louisiana Fire Marshal Butch Browning said Tuesday. "The only exception is if we go somewhere and someone blatantly does something that's egregious. That may be a two striker, but we have not dealt with anyone on a first mistake."
Louisiana remains in Phase 2 of reopening with Edwards' order also closing bars to on-premises consumption and requiring face coverings statewide.
Four bars' permits were suspended this week. "These are first four businesses that have received a penalty," Browning said.
Browning said his deputies have made more than 5,000 visits to businesses since Phase 2. He said 14 businesses are on their second strike.
"First and foremost the vast majority of businesses have done phenomenal job," Browning said. "It's not fair for the good businesses out there who are doing their best to help recover from the pandemic when you have these bad actors.
"So we developed system to go out and work with businesses and give them many chances to modify what needs to be done, but at some point (we have to take action)."
Edwards said he sympathizes with businesses suffering hardships because of the restrictions.
"These are very tough restrictions and I'm aware of that and I apologize, but they're absolutely necessary," the governor said.
"There's nothing easy or painless about making a decision to put restrictions on any business, but when we have a health emergency that is unprecedented we have to take measures designed to promote safety and keep as much of the (economy) as possible open," he said. "We've obviously tried to be very patient, but sometimes the violations are flagrant enough that we have to take action."
Bars whose permits were temporarily suspended include: Pelican Pub, 6473 Louisiana 44, Gonzales; Sand Dollar Tiki Bar, 158 Sand Dollar Court, Grand Isle; Frosty Factory, 4688 Common St., Lake Charles; and Wo-de's Chill Spot, 3400 Westbank Expressway, Harvey.
Hearings are scheduled for those businesses on Aug. 5 and Aug. 6.
Sand Dollar Bar owner Butch Gaspard contends his business committed no wrongdoing and called the charges “false.”
“We had nothing to do with what was going on at the pavilion,” Gaspard said in an email to USA Today Network Tuesday. “In 23 years that we’ve been here at this location, we were never cited or warned about anything going wrong in our business by the fire marshal or (Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control).
“The fire marshal was here on Saturday at 4:45 p.m. ... For 20 minutes they sat in their car and observed and began to walk around and met with me and said all was good and that we were in compliance. We have multiple witnesses to what he said.”
Hearings are scheduled the Sand Dollar and other three bars on Aug. 5 and Aug. 6.
"I want to reaffirm our goal is to work with people," Browning said. "We're going to continue to do that because I believe enforcement works better when people voluntarily comply.
"But we will continue to go out and make these visits on a daily basis to make sure people understand and can comply and in the event we have people who don't comply there are consequences."
USA Today Network reporter Dan Copp contributed to this report.
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.