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Tilman Fertitta calls for federal virus rules, says it’s ‘ridiculous’ to open and re-close businesses

Billionaire business owner Tilman Fertitta said Tuesday that the United States needs national laws about the extent to which businesses can open during the coronavirus pandemic, saying that constant adjustments to rules by local leaders are hurting companies. 

“At some point, the federal government has got to take it away from the states and you’ve got to have clarity. This is so hard on businesses, it’s so hard on our employees,” the Landry’s CEO said on “Power Lunch.”

As confirmed cases of Covid-19 have risen in parts of the country, some local leaders have rolled back or paused their economic reopenings, including in states like Texas, Florida and California. The Trump administration released guidelines in April about when states should reopen, but those were voluntary. White House health advisor Anthony Fauci said last week that some states may have skipped steps as they lifted restrictions

Fertitta said that the federal rules should include setting a capacity level that businesses can reopen to for the rest of the year to avoid frequent reopenings and pullbacks.

“To open and close me and open and close me is literally ridiculous,” Fertitta said.

The restaurateur pointed to new rules in San Diego declared on Monday as an example of the impact quick policy changes can have on businesses.

“Well, you’d already brought in your big orders in for the week. So you already had the food. You can’t send it back. They don’t even give us a 24- or 48-hour (notice),” Fertitta said. 

The federal rules should also let restaurants and other business prorate their rent payments based on the level of reopening allowed, Fertitta said. He also called for more stimulus aimed at businesses, saying, “I commend the billionaires” who took loans through the Paycheck Protection Program. 

The PPP loans were aimed at small businesses to keep or bring back workers during the pandemic, but the program received criticism when it was revealed that public companies and companies owned by wealthy individuals could access the funds. The Small Business Association later said that companies able to raise money in the capital markets should return the loans. 

Fertitta said he did not use PPP funds but now wishes he had. The billionaire owns business across the country, including the NBA’s Houston Rockets, and said he expects more disruptions to those businesses if the federal government does not step in. 

“I promise you before the day’s over somebody will do something to totally disrupt my business today, at a casino, at an amusement park, or at one of my restaurants or my basketball team,” he said.

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