House passes bill to allow N.C. bars to reopen despite executive order, bill now headed to Gov. Cooper.

House passes bill to allow N.C. bars to reopen despite executive order, bill now headed to Gov. Cooper.
The state House joined with the Senate and approved legislation to allow “safe”outdoor seating for dining and beverage service in North Carolina at half of each bar’s total maximum occupancy. (Source: Chan Walrus)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP/WBTV) - North Carolina legislators are wading into Gov. Roy Cooper’s business reopening decisions.

The state Senate voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to let bars serve customers outdoors, despite his recent executive order keeping them closed due to COVID-19.

The state House joined with the Senate and approved legislation to allow “safe”outdoor seating for dining and beverage service in North Carolina at half of each bar’s total maximum occupancy.

Gov. Cooper says his decision shuttering bars until at least late June is based on data and science.

Republicans and some business owners have questioned his orders, calling them uneven and devastating to the state economy. But most Senate Democrats joined GOP counterparts in sending the measure to the House.

House Bill 536 Temp Outdoor Restaurants for Outdoor Seating allows bars to operate at 50 percent of total capacity.

“We join our colleagues across the General Assembly urging Governor Cooper to sign this legislation immediately to offer a lifeline to thousands of businesses across North Carolina through a safe, commonsense policy that is supported by science and data,” state House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said Thursday.

The bill now goes to Governor Roy Cooper, who responded to the legislation during a press conference Thursday afternoon.

“We’re six days into Phase 2 and on a day when we’re seeing some of our highest numbers of hospitalizations and death, the senate wants to open bars," Gov. Cooper said. "These decisions are difficult, but they are made with daily briefings from doctors and healthcare experts.”

State health officials say the number of positive virus cases exceed 25,000.

On Thursday, North Carolina continued to see hospitalizations due to COVID-19 rise again on Thursday, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

There are 708 people currently hospitalized, which is the highest number reported yet by the state.

“I know that it is a tough time for business, and I believe that there will be a time when we can open bars, but that time is not now and I hope that the House will look at this carefully and senators will reconsider their choice about this,” Gov. Cooper said.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved. WBTV contributed to this report.