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Local bar owners going after Gov. Sisolak over closures during pandemic

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A local judge is taking more time to decide how she will rule on an injunction put into place by local bar owners in an effort to reverse Governor Steve Sisolak’s pandemic reopening plan.

In a court hearing conducted via video conference Thursday, Judge Kerry Earley heard from the legal counsel representing the governor of the state and 62 of Nevada’s bar and tavern owners. The bar and tavern owners are taking the governor to court, pushing to reopen their doors and bar tops.

Last month, the governor ordered certain Nevada counties with bars that do not serve food to roll back to phase one reopening plan restrictions.

The order also banned businesses from allowing customers to sit, hang out, order, or play on gaming machines in the bar area. The owners are citing great financial losses from the closure of their bar-gaming.

The plaintiffs are further arguing that they've been singled out, defending their reopening plans with evidence of face-covering enforcement policies, socially-distanced tables, and plexiglass-barriers.

During the virtual hearing, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, Dennis Kennedy, pressed further, adding the industry’s compliance numbers are up and comparable to other industries that have been allowed to remain open.

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"Bars and casino gaming floors are 80% compliant at this point,” said Kennedy. “Water parks are just flatly not in compliance, they come up with a 0[%]."

Craig Newby, the attorney representing Gov. Sisolak, argued that these are unprecedented times while also questioning the court's role in emergency orders, especially those tied to a novel coronavirus.

Newby cited case law in his arguments, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent denial of a rural Nevada church’s request to strike down as unconstitutional a 50-person cap on worship services. The cap was also put into place as part of the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think we can all agree that if the governor could make coronavirus disappear, he would eliminate the directives, eliminate the emergency, and have the strait reopen entirely tomorrow,” said Newby.

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In the end, the judge asked for more time to consider if she will decide for or against the injunction. Judge Earley has also now given both sides until a Thursday evening deadline to send over additional case law supporting their arguments, with hopes of ruling coming by Friday.

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