HOUSTON - As Houstonians prepare to count down to 2021, local officials say they’ll be cracking down on businesses not abiding by COVID capacity rules.
Houston Fire officials said they’ll be doing random patrols starting Thursday through the weekend to make sure businesses are complying with the state’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Those in violation could receive a fine or have their liquor license stripped from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
This New Year's Eve will no doubt look and feel different than years past. While some celebrations may continue, Houston fire marshals say they’ll be patrolling crowded businesses not complying with the state’s COVID-19 restrictions.
"They're looking for overcrowded situations or other hazards. Where it's different this year, we have additional teams out that are that are responding to citizen complaints that come in that are related to occupancy concerns or even social distancing concerns as well," said Alfredo Martinez, Houston Fire Marshal.
Currently, bars in Harris County are not allowed to reopen, but earlier this summer, the TABC began granting thousands of bars to convert their liquor license to be classified as restaurants.
Houston fire marshals say those businesses, in particular, are on their radar this New Year’s Eve.
"Those are the ones that we have trouble with because they're technically still treated as a bar, even though they have a kitchen. It's a bar that's not used to be in a restaurant, that it's more difficult to maintain because they don't have all the tables and chairs necessary to maintain social distance," said Martinez.
The TABC said their patrols will also look different this year.
"New Year's 2019 that was going to be just things like making sure minors aren't being served alcohol or people who are intoxicated weren't being allowed to consume alcohol," said Chris Porter.
A fine with the fire marshal’s office ranges anywhere from $500 to $2,000 and businesses unwilling to comply could risk losing their liquor license entirely.
"A 30-day suspension of the liquor license for the first offense, and for a second offense, it could be a suspension of up to 60 days. Then following that, you know, the penalties are going to be kind of case-by-case, but they could include a possible cancellation of their liquor permit," Porter said.
Both TABC and the fire marshal's office said their first priority is compliance, so it’s only if a business refuses to make any changes will they resort to fines and permit suspensions.