New bill that would allow NC bars to operate with outside seating raises concerns for Gov. Cooper

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Despite Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order to keep bars closed during phase two, they would be allowed to operate with outside seating under a bill the General Assembly passed Thursday.

The bill would allow bars to seat people outside at 50 percent capacity of their indoor capacity or 100 people, whichever is less while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

Restaurants would also be able to seat more people outside, increasing their potential capacity. Under phase two, Cooper has limited inside dining at 50 percent capacity.

“What I’m trying to do is a give a lifeline to businesses that have been crippled from COVID and at the same time do it in a responsible manner,” said Sen. Rick Gunn (R-Alamance/Guilford), who pushed for the bill to pass.

It cleared the Senate Thursday morning by a margin of 42-5. Later in the day the House approved it in a 65-53 vote, after Democrats raised a variety of concerns about the proposal.

Sen. Wiley Nickel (D-Wake) cast one of the five votes against the bill in the Senate. He said one of his concerns is the bill limiting the ability of Cooper to enact further restrictions in the event the state experiences a spike in COVID-19 cases or a second wave in the fall.

“I absolutely support the ability of restaurants to have additional outdoor seating, but the devil is in the details,” said Nickel. “I don’t trust the Republican majority in the legislature to come back and make changes if we have a second wave.”

Cooper raised concerns about the bill as well during a press conference Thursday, saying it could “hurt public health.”

“And on a day when we’re seeing some of our highest numbers of hospitalizations and deaths, the Senate wants to open bars,” Cooper said.

If the bill ultimately becomes law, it would take effect for a limited amount of time. It expires on Oct. 31 or 30 days “after any declaration of emergency prohibitions or restrictions” ends, whichever comes later.

If Cooper vetoes the bill, it would require a three-fifths majority of members who are present and voting to override that veto. While it passed by a wide margin in the Senate, it did not get three-fifths support in the House Thursday.

“We all will work together to do what’s best for North Carolina, but at the same time do not shut down our economic engine in this particular critical sector that has been devastated so greatly,” said Gunn. “I am going to make sure that this is done successfully and done correctly, and that our businesses that are hurting so much will have a chance to survive.”

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