Kansas City’s Dubious COVID Orders Prompt Lawsuit
The decisions reached by policymakers should be based on the facts and grounded in a rational approach to achieving their goals with as little collateral damage as possible. As a general matter, public policy should be narrowly tailored to meet public needs and administered such that the rules apply the same to all.
The problem in Kansas City and elsewhere, however, is that the rules created under the pretense of coronavirus mitigation are not being applied evenly, or perhaps even legally. Enter a lawsuit by The Blue Line, a bar in Kansas City’s River Market district, that takes issue not only with what the city’s emergency orders do, but even how they were imposed in the first place.
According to The Blue Line’s petition, the emergency orders, which KCMO announced Nov. 16 and that went into effect throughout the city and county on Nov. 20, are illegal without approval by the KCMO City Council or Jackson County Legislature and unconstitutional.
According to the lawsuit, The Blue Line said it pays “a premium to Kansas City and the State of Missouri” for a 3 a.m. liquor license and that 40% of its revenue comes after 10 p.m.
That makes the closure of bars and restaurants—while casinos are allowed to continue round-the-clock operations, movie theaters can stay open past 10 p.m., and alcohol sales are permitted to continue at liquor and grocery stores— “arbitrary and capricious,” according to the lawsuit.
I agree with the bar that these rules are arbitrary and capricious. Casinos have not acquired a special immunity to coronavirus that would permit them to remain open in ways competing bars and restaurants cannot—though I’ll note that my solution isn’t to shut down casinos, but rather to leave bars and restaurants alone or otherwise subject to the same set of rules these big businesses get to abide by. What’s good enough for Walmart is good enough for everyone else; likewise, what’s good enough for big entertainment venues like casinos is good enough for the corner bar and grill.
We know that state laws protecting gun stores from being shut down during emergencies work, with local shops and big retailers having demonstrated throughout this crisis that they can remain open and operate safely regardless of their size. The Missouri Legislature must pass a law to ensure that all businesses similarly situated are able to enjoy similar protections to ensure that small operators don’t have to sue local governments to be treated fairly by them. Until that happens, I hope The Blue Line’s lawsuit helps establish a red line against unequal treatment and cronyism that local policymakers will be more hesitant to cross in the future.