LAFAYETTE, La. — The State Fire Marshal’s Office is working on more aggressive enforcement efforts for complaints it receives for businesses that violate Gov. John Bel Edward's order on Phase 2 reopening guidelines, including for bars and restaurants with live entertainment.
According to SFM Public Affairs Director Ashely Rodrigue, the overall COVID-19 enforcement effort is a collaboration among the State Fire Marshal’s Office, the Louisiana Department of Health and Alcohol Tobacco Control.
Rodrigue says the primary complaints for businesses the SFM addresses are in relation to social distancing, capacity and being open and operating when not allowed.
LDH primarily deals with sanitation and mask-related complaints.
However, if a business complaint includes a combination of these types, SFMO handles that complaint.
Upon receipt of complaints, Rodrigue says that deputies will respond in person to vet the complaint and a compliance inspection will occur.
If violations are found, then SFM will inform the business representative who is present about those violations, educate them on the guidelines relative to those violations and will require them to remedy the violations on the spot.
Then a follow-up visit will occur.
“If violations are observed on the follow-up visit, supervision will be alerted and several options will then come into play, depending on the level of non-compliance,” said Rodrigue.
Those options include a citation for violating the governor’s order, a cease and desist order, and licensure revocation by LDH or ATC.
The decision on what action to take will be determined on a case-by-case basis depending on the extent of the repeat violations found, she adds.
State Fire Marshal Chief Butch Browning would then give final approval for prior to the action taking place.
KATC reached out to ATC where a spokesperson stated that they are also preparing more efforts to send agents out to track complaints for businesses and participate in follow up visits.
ATC can also potentially revoke or suspend permits for businesses that are found to be in noncompliance with the governor’s order where they would not be legally allowed to sell alcohol on their premises.
The move follows the governor’s announcement on Monday to increase communication and conduct more spot checks for businesses to be sure that employees are wearing masks as ordered.
According to Rodrigue, the local fire departments that have signed up to make unannounced visits of businesses will continue to do so alongside SFMO deputies.
When Phase 2 began on June 5, indoor live entertainment, which included but was not limited to bands and karaoke, was not authorized. But, this limitation did not apply to disc jockeys or music played via speaker system.
As of June 12, new guidance was released saying that indoor live entertainment may now be considered but businesses will have to submit a written request.
The original guidelines were questioned by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry following a letter from Lafayette Mayor President Josh Guillory. Guillory sought clarification on the Phase 2 guidelines regarding live music indoors.
The Lafayette Consolidated Government also issued a reminder to citizens and businesses on Friday about Phase 2 guidelines and enforcement.
KATC Investigates obtained a list of the complaints made to SFM for businesses in Acadiana that were accused of not complying with the state’s reopening guidelines since Phase 1 began on May 15.
Among the list is one business in Downtown Lafayette with repeated complaints: Rock ‘N’ Bowl de Lafayette.
According to the list, Rock ‘N’ Bowl had six complaints filed to SFMO from June 3 - 23 for overcrowding; not maintaining six feet of social distance among groups; tables not spaced; waiting spaces or lobbies not being used; groups of more than 10; crowd managers not controlling occupancy; tables and chairs not being wiped down between customers; open when not allowed; and exterior queuing, stanchions, or other methods of control are blocking exits.
However, only one of the complaints - from Thursday, June 4 @ 1:23 p.m. - warranted a contact from SFMO for having groups of more than 10. The rest are labeled as “New Complaint,” which means that it has not been addressed in the system yet, according to Rodrigue.
The last complaint on the list was on Monday, June 23 at 7:51 a.m. for having live music indoors and dancing; overcrowding; not maintaining social distance; and employees not wearing PPE.
KATC reached out to Rock ‘n’ Bowl CEO Johnny Blancher for comment on Thursday on the complaints. He responded with the following statement:
The RocknBowl® has complied with all guidelines for reopening and considers the safety of our guests to be paramount. Furthermore, the same attention to cleanliness and safety transfers to our team. RocknBowl® has complied with application processes and has exceeded all requests regarding cleanliness & sanitation, including indoor air quality of 141 air changes per hour. The state fire marshal's office guidelines allow indoor live entertainment by applying for the permit with the state fire marshal's office. RocknBowl® has complied with reviews from state and local authorities and has met all requests and on-site inspections throughout the phases. Additionally, we have even built in days off and extra time before reopenings in order to take extra precautions in cleanliness and sanitation.
On Friday, the Blanchard family announced on Facebook that both Rock ‘n’ Bowl and its Ye Olde College Inn Steak & Bank Bar would be temporarily closing beginning June 26 until confirmation of Phase 3 would be announced.
You can read the full list of complaints for businesses in Acadiana from SFM below.
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