RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Independence Day celebrations could still go on regardless of limits in place on mass gatherings under a bill the state Senate passed Friday.
Sen. Warren Daniel (R-46) said he recently heard from leaders of some communities who want to go forward with parades and fireworks displays but are uncertain what restrictions will be in place at that point.
“Protesting peacefully is as apple pie as anything in America. It’s a First Amendment right. But, we also shouldn’t discourage people from celebrating what’s right about America,” Daniel said.
Under the bill, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) would not be able to prohibit these events from occurring nor could counties or municipalities. Cooper is expected to announce early next week what the next phase of reopening the state will look like. The current “safer-at-home” order ends June 26.
Some communities, such as Raleigh and Durham, already have canceled their Independence Day events amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Under the bill, which passed the Senate by a margin of 27-15, groups that want to host parades and fireworks displays would be able to request a permit, and no municipality or county could deny that permit as long as the request is “reasonable.”
A denial of a permit request that is substantially similar to a permit issued a year ago could only occur after a finding of “good cause” that is “documented in writing.”
Sen. Jeff Jackson (D-Mecklenburg) voted against the bill.
“To put municipalities in a situation where if they don’t (issue a permit), they’re subjected to a lawsuit, the outcome of which is entirely uncertain, that’s a step too far,” Jackson said.
The events could take place between July 1 and July 10.
“People can social distance. They can wear masks. They can provide all the PPE that they want,” said Sen. Jim Burgin (R-12).
Some Democrats who voted against the bill pointed to the trends in the state regarding the spread of COVID-19. Friday, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services reported a new high of 871 people in hospitals because of COVID-19.
“The metrics are not improving. We are at record hospitalizations. The amount of people with COVID-19 is going up as a state,” said Sen. Wiley Nickel (D-Wake). “I am not going to take medical health advice from a group of Republicans who by and large don’t wear masks in the middle of a pandemic.”
The bill also shields event organizers from some legal liability if a person contracts COVID-19. It says a person can’t be liable except for cases of “gross negligence, willful or wanton misconduct or intentional wrongdoing.”
“We wanted municipalities to have that comfort, too, if they decide to go forward with their 4th of July parades, that they would sort of have limited immunity from lawsuits regarding that,” said Daniel.
The bill now goes to the House for consideration.
Late Friday afternoon, Cooper’s office released the following statement about the bill:
“North Carolina is seeing our highest number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and it is irresponsible to try and limit the actions the Governor can take to protect North Carolinians during an emergency. The Governor will review these bills before announcing action.”
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