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New Bill In New Jersey Would Require Refunds From Venues For Weddings Canceled Due To The Pandemic

NORTH BERGEN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) - It has been a headache for engaged couples who had to postpone or cancel their wedding because of the pandemic.

Many families have lost thousands of dollars.

Now, a new bill in New Jersey would require a refund.

"We wanted our money back. We didn't have a wedding with them,' said Patricia Kazanowski.

"Just give me my money. What's wrong with you?" Barbara Cimino said.

Events dreamed about for years turned into nightmares. Then bride-to-be Patricia Kazanowski signed a contract pre-COVID for a November wedding. When everything shut down in March, she went back and forth with venue management.

"Is my November 1st wedding still going to happen?" Kazanowski said. "Can we do November of 2021? And they would not agree to do that at all."

She says she received threatening letters, CBS2's Vanessa Murdock reported.

"Pay the money or they were going to sue us," she said.

Barbara Cimino shares a similar story. She put a deposit down for her daughter's June wedding. The venue asked her to pick another date and she did. Then the contract came.

"We assumed everything was going to be the same," she said.

But everything was different.

"They could change the room at any time without telling us. They upped the per person price," Barbara said. "If the government shut them down, that we were still responsible for whatever our minimum was."

She asked for a refund. After nearly a year of fighting, the matter is in civil court.

"There's a couple of bad actors out there, and this bill will really just weed out those bad actors," said St. Sen. Vin Gopal.

Gopal sponsored Bill S2896. If passed, venues would be required to refund "any payments made for an event at the venue" canceled as a result of the public health emergency.

"This is unacceptable behavior and we need to something about it," said St. Sen. Joe Cryan.

"Why not instead kind of change the way things are done and require an escrow account?" Murdock asked.

"That might be a solution moving forward," Cryan said.

Both senators say there is a lot of work still to come on the bill.

"I don't think it's fair," said Lesley Lovett of Waterside Restaurant and Catering in North Bergen – not the venue booked by Patricia or Barbara.

"All of these venues in New Jersey are, for the most part, family-owned businesses that were built from generations of hard work," Lovett said.

"You don't really hear of all the positive things that these venues, who have been so devastated, are trying to do," said Marilou Halvorsen, president and CEO of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association.

The NJRHA shares the vast majority of COVID cancellations, about 90%, were amicably resolved.

The measure is retroactive as of March 2020 and could become law in June.

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