The Vermillion City Council Monday morning approved an emergency ordinance designed to help contain the spread of coronavirus in the community on its second reading during a special meeting at City Hall.
The action means the new law is now on the city books, going into effect immediately after it was unanimously approved on its second reading
The new regulation, which was approved by aldermen on its first reading during a March 24 special meeting, restricts a host of retail and recreational activities in the city. Hit hard are a significant part of Vermillion’s retail sector – its restaurants and bars.
Many of those community establishments, including several restaurants, began following the on-site sales prohibitions of the ordinance after it was approved by the city council after its first reading March 24, even though the new law wasn’t in effect. The establishments offered curb-side sales or began new delivery or drive-thru services of menu items to local consumers which are allowed by the new regulation.
During March 30’s special meeting, the city council approved alterations to the ordinance and also established fines for establishments that break the new law.
The ordinance referred to massage parlors in its initial form; that terminology was changed to read massage facilities.
“We also learned that often times they (massage facilities) will have a contract for medical rehabilitation; in some cases, it will be through the local Veterans Administration,” City Manager John Prescott told city council members.
That information compelled city administrators to add new language to the ordinance stating that facilities not affected by the new ordinance are those that provide “prescribed, required, or recommended services as directed by a licensed medical provider.”
Also added to the list of establishments that are not affected by the new ordinance are “facilities providing medical, therapy, or rehabilitation services as prescribed, required or recommended by a licensed medical provider.”
The ordinance also allows the city council to set a fine for businesses that violate the new rules. Prescott noted that the fine is set by a resolution passed by the council that is in compliance with the general penalty provision of section of City of Vermillion Municipal Code. Each day a violation of this ordinance is allowed to occur is considered a separate offense.
“I would note that today the (South Dakota) Legislature is meeting for what is known as Veto Day and one of the bills that they have … is going to be addressing language very similar to this to reinforce the city’s ability to adopt an ordinance like this,” Prescott said.
An emergency resolution approved by the city council Monday states that the fine for each violation is $56.50, plus court costs of $62.50 for a total of $119.
“I think the first part of this is education,” Prescott said of the proposed fine. “Certainly, it’s not that we’re going to be looking to issue violations for this, but if we do get in a situation where we have to issues tickets, we do have a fine established.”
Alderman Tom Sorensen asked if the new ordinance allows chiropractors’ offices to stay open.
“I would say as long as they were … facilities providing prescribed, required or recommended services as directed by a licensed medical provider,” Prescott said, reading the new wording added to the ordinance.
“Licensed makes a big difference,” Sorensen said. “And that may also have to do with a prescription by someone.”
“It could be a medical doctor; it could be a physical therapist. ‘Licensed medical provider’ covers a gamut of providers of medical needs,” Prescott said.
Sorensen, who voted against the ordinance during its first reading on March 24, said, “We really do need to put this into place. I like the provisions that we can adjust it periodically; that’s the way it’s written.”
He added that he believed the city council should request that Gov. Kristi Noem appoint the local National Guard medical company that’s based in Vermillion to help the community, but did not amend the ordinance with that language.
Before the council voted on the resolution that sets a fine for any violations of the new ordinance, Alderman Steve Ward asked how the public would be notified of businesses that break the new law.
“Generally speaking, we don’t list violators of the city ordinances,” Prescott said. “My guess is the best time that they would become more of a public item would be when they go through the court system.”
“If we wanted just these fines published publically, then I suppose we would need to change the ordinance that we just passed,” Ward said.
City Attorney Jim McCullough replied that the public would be informed of violators of this ordinance just as they are of those who break other city laws.
“They would be published in the newspaper every week. Sometimes two or three weeks of court proceedings are published all at once,” he said. “They would be in the Plain Talk and they’re all public record for anyone that wants to call up there (the courthouse) or go up there and examine the records.”
McCullough noted that the courthouse has been off-limits to the public recently because of COVID-19.
“I guess I’m asking just to ask,” Ward said. “I’m less interested in people being fined a lot of money for violations than I am in a deterrent through people (knowing) … I guess shame is what I’m looking for more than a monetary fine.”
The ordinance reads, in part, that effective on March 30, all restaurants, food courts, coffee houses, bars, cafes and similar businesses that offer food and beverages for on-site consumption, including alcohol licensees with on-sale privileges, are closed to on-site/on-sale patrons.
The ordinance allows such businesses to stay open and provide take-out, delivery, curbside and drive-thru services.
Effective March 30, public pools, health clubs, spas, hair and nail salons, athletic facilities and theatres, including movie theatres and music and entertainment venues are “directed to close and cease operations.”
Other local business activity that is restricted under the ordinance includes vaping lounges and similar businesses that allow for on-site consumption. They must cease on-site consumption but may continue to offer products for sale to consume off-site.
Video lottery casino operations in the community also had to close March 30.
The new law will be in effect for 60 days beginning Monday. The law will expire after that period of time, but the city council may continue it if it decides it’s still needed.
The emergency ordinance does not apply to public places that offer food and beverages for off-site consumption, including grocery stores, markets, retail stores that offer food, food pantries, convenience stores, liquor stores and drug stores; health care and correctional facilities, homeless shelters, soup kitchens and similar institutions.
The new law also will not affect official meetings of the city, county, schools or state; the operations and meetings of any state, federal or local governments or their courts, schools governed by the local school board or the South Dakota Board of Regents, and the city’s parks, trails, bike paths and The Bluffs Golf Course.