The State Liquor Authority is harassing bars and restaurants and hitting them with “exorbitant fines,” making it nearly impossible to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, according to nearly two dozen state lawmakers, who this week urged the agency to work with — not against– the businesses.
“We are calling on the SLA to take immediate action to remedy their harsh punishment against small businesses when they need our support most,” Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) wrote in a late Wednesday letter signed by 19 other state senators.
Ramos and her colleagues say the penalties are too high and the enforcement process isn’t transparent.
The SLA has suspended the licenses of 162 bars and restaurants, filing nearly 900 charges for coronavirus-related social distancing violations. About half of those establishments are within the five boroughs. The businesses face fines of $10,000 per violation that can add up to $35,000 penalties.
All penalties associated with suspended licenses have been rescinded to date including the maximum one of $35,000, according to SLA records. It’s unclear why the fines were withdrawn.
“We should be working with the business to be compliant, not shaking them down of the little stimulus relief money they have received, if any,” Ramos told The Post.
Her letter cites reports of “harassment tactics which include sirens and megaphones taunting owners with the threat of closure during working hours.”
As an example of the arbitrary enforcement process, Ramos pointed to the recent closure of Cloister Cafe in the East Village that the SLA shut down earlier this month allegedly for hosting crowded underground parties.
Ramos said the cafe “was inspected and told they were in the clear. Yet minutes later, a second squad or different task force came in and penalized the place. This is a 30-year-old business without any prior infractions.”
The cafe is suing over its liquor license revocation.
Ramos blames city and state officials for the confusing crackdown.
“The mayor and governor have changed requirements and expanded enforcement capabilities without properly informing the public or providing them with due process,” she wrote.
The SLA conducts an internal hearing process where targeted business owners can offer a defense against the charges.
Ramos claimed the process was more like a “kangaroo court.”
Reps for the SLA, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
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