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Bars and restaurants sue Minneapolis to end vaccine proof requirement

In a lawsuit filed Thursday, Jan 20, in Hennepin County District Court, the restaurants and bars asked a judge to nullify the Minneapolis vaccine rule, arguing the policy is an undue burden on businesses that already suffered from restrictions earlier in the pandemic. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include a Minnesota Jimmy John's franchisee and several Minneapolis bars including downtown's Gay 90's.

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Brianna Solberg of Duluth fills out vaccination cards for her children Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, at the Lester Park Elementary School COVID-19 vaccine clinic for child vaccinations in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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ST. PAUL — A group of businesses has filed a lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis and Mayor Jacob Frey in an attempt to end a proof of vaccine or negative COVID-19 test requirement at bars and restaurants that went into effect in the city this week.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday, Jan 20, in Hennepin County District Court, the restaurants and bars asked a judge to nullify the Minneapolis vaccine rule, arguing the policy is an undue burden on businesses that already suffered from restrictions earlier in the pandemic.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include a Minnesota Jimmy John's franchisee and several Minneapolis bars including downtown's Gay 90's. The group is represented by Francis Rondoni and Jeffrey O’Brien of the Minneapolis law firm Chestnut Cambronne.

"Minneapolis bars and restaurants are being used as pawns to further Mayor Frey’s agenda of pushing for and convincing the public to get vaccinated," the businesses said in their complaint. "Whether the end being sought is noble, the scheme is forcing restaurants and bars to lose additional patrons and business that have already been reduced over the past two years and incur new costs and burdens to enforce the requirements."

Frey used emergency powers to impose the Minneapolis vaccination or negative test proof requirement, but the businesses in their complaint dispute the current wave of COVID-19 infections constitutes a state of emergency. Minnesota has not been in a pandemic state of emergency since July 2021, they argue.

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Minneapolis and St. Paul started requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test at bars, restaurants and other venues that serve food and drinks on Wednesday, Jan. 19. The requirement for ticketed events begins Jan. 26. As of Friday, no lawsuit had been filed against St. Paul or Mayor Melvin Carter in Ramsey County court. An attorney with the group that sued Minneapolis said.

The cities are among 11 others across the U.S. with similar proof of vaccine rules.

Unvaccinated individuals must present proof of a negative PCR test for COVID-19 taken within the last 72 hours. Home antigen tests do not count as proof. The Minneapolis requirement does not apply to performers or athletes at venues provided the establishment follows other COVID-19 safety measures.

St. Paul’s requirement is set to expire after 40 days, at which point the city will consult with public health officials on whether the policy should continue, Carter told reporters at a virtual news conference Jan. 12. Frey did not have a set expiration date for his city’s requirement.

St. Paul and Minneapolis brought back their public masking requirements in early January in response to a surge of COVID-19 cases driven by the omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.

Enforcement of the vaccine requirements will be largely complaint-based. Minneapolis will take reports of violations through its 311 helpline. In Minneapolis, enforcement will begin with warning letters to businesses, followed by citations, action against business licenses or misdemeanor prosecution.

Tony Chesak, executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, a group representing small family-owned bars, restaurants and liquor stores, said while it wasn't immediately exactly clear what the impact has been in the first days of the vaccine or test rule, members expect to lose substantial business to inner-ring suburbs.

"All signs so far are pointing to a lot of folks have lost revenue now and in the near future," he said. "People just don't want to deal with the restrictions."

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Chesak said his association would have a closer estimate of the rule's impact by early next week.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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