Update: This story has been updated throughout after the New Mexico Supreme Court’s actions Monday afternoon. After a busy day of court rulings on Monday, restaurants still are not able to serve indoor customers.
Monday, a state district court judge issued a temporary restraining order that would have allowed restaurants to serve indoor, in-person dining for ten days. Monday afternoon, the New Mexico Supreme Court granted an emergency request issuing a stay on the lower court’s order. At issue is the governor’s latest public health emergency order, which banned indoor dining at restaurants and breweries because of the threat of COVID-19. Restaurants and breweries are still able to serve in-person diners on patios or other outdoor areas and can serve takeout and delivery.
Restaurants in much of the state can serve patrons for outdoor dining—with some restrictions—starting Wednesday. Restaurants in Cibola, San Juan and McKinley counties are not included in the new lifting of patio dining restrictions. The state cited the fact that the northwest region has been hit hard by the virus. The New Mexico Restaurant Association asked that restaurants in Doña Ana County wait until June 1 to open for outdoor dining. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office announced late Tuesday that she amended the public health order to allow restaurants in most counties to begin serving patrons in outdoor patio dining areas but the outdoor dining can not be larger than 50 percent of the restaurant’s fire code occupancy.
The state suspended the food service permits for two restaurants that defied the state’s public health order and allowed dine-in service. The state Environment Department made the announced Friday afternoon. The two restaurants are Jalisco Cafe in Silver City and Anaheim Jacks in Ruidoso. The department cited a portion of the Food Service and Sanitation Act that states, the department can suspend a license if “conditions within a food service establishment present a substantial danger of illness, serious physical harm or death to consumers who might patronize the food service establishment.”
The restaurants can appeal the decision. If the restaurants continue to serve food, the department warned that they could legally pursue civil penalties in state district court of $500 per person.
How high will the statewide minimum wage go? Or will it go at all? For many business owners, that is a key looming question during the 60-day legislative session. The minimum wage in New Mexico, unchanged since 2009, could see an upward adjustment from $7.50 an hour. Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, wants to double that to $15 an hour Jan.
A proposal to raise the hourly minimum wage in New Mexico to $9 won the backing Monday of a Senate committee as well as business and labor groups. But with several bills floating around the Capitol this year to give at least a slight boost to the earnings of New Mexico’s lowest-paid workers, agreement still seems elusive on how high the state’s minimum wage should go and what strings should be attached. In a 5-3 vote, the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee approved Senate Bill 386, which would raise the hourly minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 but allow employers to pay new hires a training wage of $8 per hour for up to two months. The bill would also raise the minimum wage for tipped employees, such as waitresses and baristas, from $2.13 to $2.63. A major public employees union, New Mexico Voices for Children and the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce have backed the proposal, seeing it as a compromise that would ensure at least some increase in pay for low-wage workers while also proving palatable to some in the business community.
Mayor Richard Berry’s $119 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit project along Central just got a double-dose of bad news. The U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee has recommended a $19 million cut in funding for project, and the New Mexico Restaurant Association now opposes ART. The Appropriations Committee, in its 2017 budget proposal to the full House, has recommended that the FTA’s Small Starts grant for ART be cut from $69 million to $50 million, according to the committee’s report. In the Senate, the Appropriations Committee has recommended that the FTA’s Small Starts grants – of which ART is just one applicant – total $240.7 million for all 10 projects, about half of the $407.8 million the House wants to spend. The difference in proposed spending will have to be worked out in conference committee negotiations, and those could be months away.