Some Green Country bars and restaurants are staying open past 11 p.m. despite the Governor’s curfew.
“In my opinion if you don’t want to get sick, don’t come out, stay home,” said Doug’s Waterin’ Hole Owner, Doug Percifield. “Those that aren’t worried about it, if they want to come out then you shouldn’t be able to tell them they can’t.”
The governor issued an executive order in November stating bars and restaurants weren’t allowed to serve food or beverages past 11 p.m. unless they had takeout or drive-thru options.
“If the governor was serious about enforcing this executive order then what he would have to do is activate the national guard and have them go from bar to bar to forcibly stop them from serving beyond 11 o’clock,” said Attorney for Urbanic Law Firm in Oklahoma City, Frank Urbanic.
The ABLE Commission said they aren’t enforcing the curfew right now after six bar owners challenged the Governor’s authority to make this executive order.
Doug’s Waterin Hole in Poteau is just one of the many bars across the state fighting back against the curfew.
Bar owners involved in the lawsuit said most of their money is made after 11 p.m. and they need to stay open to save their businesses.
“He said you know you’re supposed to close at 11 p.m. and I said well I have over 40 people in the bar spending over $10 an hour so do the math,” said Percifield.
Percifield said he stayed open on November 21 after Governor Kevin Stitt ordered bars to shut down at 11 p.m. earlier that week.
He got two tickets from the ABLE Commission for violating the curfew and serving alcohol after legal operating hours. Until this weekend, he's been shutting down at 11 p.m. every night.
"That month of closing down at 11 p.m. I probably lost about $12,000,” said Percifield.
Doug's Waterin’ Hole is one of several bars across the state that was cited for violating the governor's order.
Doug's attorney Urbanic argued the governor doesn't have the authority to impose this restriction, and the ABLE Commission doesn’t have the ability to enforce it.
"We're not saying it's the right thing or the wrong thing to do, we're saying our government needs to follow the law," said Urbanic.
On Friday, an Oklahoma County Judge issued a temporary restraining order against Governor Stitt and the ABLE Commission, which allowed the bars named in the lawsuit to stay open.
Urbanic produced evidence that showed why the state’s actions were harmful financially to the bar owners.
“It’s not just them, it’s the waitresses, the DJ’s, the security, anyone employed by these businesses is also harmed,” said Urbanic.
During the next hearing on December 30, the judge asked the governor’s office, the ABLE Commission and the attorney general’s office to argue in favor of the rule. She said the state should present evidence showing ABLE is authorized to enforce it.
"She wanted them to bring evidence to show why bars and restaurants serving food after 11 o'clock were the cause of the rise in COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma,” said Urbanic.
Percifield said right now there isn't a limit on how many people he can have in his bar, so he doesn't understand how closing at 11 p.m. helps stop the spread.
"You're telling me I can have 100 people in my bar at 10:59 p.m. and that's safe but at 11:01 p.m. they're all gonna get sick? Doesn't make sense to me," said Percifield.
Urbanic said their next hearing regarding a temporary injunction is on December 30. The ABLE commission said they are not citing any bars for staying open between now and December 30.
Governor Stitt issued a statement saying in part, “Many other states have closed bars completely and banned indoor dining while my Executive Order maintains the right balance between protecting public health and keeping businesses open safely. We look forward to making our case at the hearing on Dec. 30.”