Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican, said he recently encountered a problem at his local country store: groups of senior citizens were socializing over microwaved biscuits, but they had nowhere to sit.
Tillman said he learned that allowing chairs and tables there would require legislation from Raleigh. On Tuesday, his bill to address the issue passed the Senate’s health committee.
State health rules prevent businesses classified as a food stand, which include country stores, from providing seating. The rules are designed to make sure businesses where customers linger will have an adequate septic system.
Tillman, however, said the result is that elderly customers are forced to stand. “We need a bill to make sure they can put tables in there and not be called a restaurant,” he said. “You’re going to tell these handicapped old folks they can’t do that?”
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State health officials said they can make adjustments if the bill passes.
“We’re not opposed to this,” said Larry Michaels, a section chief at the Division of Public Health. “We would just re-evaluate to make sure the septic system is sized properly. We’ve had several documented cases of sewage backups causing outbreaks, and that’s what we want to prevent.”
Sen. Stan Bingham, a Denton Republican, jokingly offered a solution to the septic tank concerns. “If they need to go, they can go to an outhouse somewhere nearby,” he said.
The bill now heads to the Senate Commerce Committee for more discussion before it gets a vote from the full chamber. The legislation only applies to permanent businesses.
It would not address seating set up by food trucks.