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Gov. Doug Ducey Defends Order To Allow Arizona Restaurants To Serve To-Go Alcohol

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is defending his directive that liquor licensing officials and police can ignore violations in the state law that prohibits restaurants from selling to-go alcohol.

More than 100 bars are suing over the decision. Attorney Ilan Wurman is representing them.

“Giving the restaurants the off-sale privilege and letting restaurants stay open, all while closing down bars seems to be a clear act of economic favoritism," said Wurman.

In new court filings, attorneys for the governor do not dispute that Arizona law prohibits restaurants from selling alcoholic beverages to go. That right is reserved for holders of other types of liquor licenses, including grocery stores and bars.

Brett Johnson, the private attorney who Ducey hired to defend all of his executive orders, said the governor was acting within his emergency powers. Johnson argues giving restaurants the "privilege" to sell beer, wine and liquor out the door "qualifies as a recovery and response activity because it aids restaurants."

Wurman argues that while the governor has the power to suspend laws dealing with things directly related to the pandemic, the liquor laws and its enforcement aren’t one of them.

Wurman said there is no basis for Ducey's argument that he has pretty much unfettered ability to do anything as long as he says it involves "response and recovery" to the underlying emergency caused by COVID-19.

That, he said, would include "anything that alleviates secondary economic, political, cultural, social damage or whatever." And Wurman said that is unconstitutional.

"It gives him essentially unlimited power," he said.

Ducey spokesperson Patrick Ptak says suspending these laws was a tough but necessary decision to help keep restaurants afloat who are also dealing with capacity limits.

"This has been a way for many establishments to maintain their operations safely and responsibly while continuing to prioritize public health,'' Ptak said.

Ptak says that the decision was well with Ducey’s emergency powers.

On Monday, Wurman filed a $12.5 million claim against the state on behalf of the more than 100 shuttered bars he represents. The number, Wurman said, is an estimate of 70% of what what the bars have lost in business from April through the end of August.

→  Get The Latest News On COVID-19 In Arizona 

Jill Ryan joined KJZZ in 2020 as a morning reporter, and she is currently a field correspondent and Morning Edition producer.