N.C. gyms, bars stay closed as governor’s COVID-19 veto stays in place

Ohio could soon allow bars to be open until 4 a.m. on the weekends.
Ohio could soon allow bars to be open until 4 a.m. on the weekends.(unsplash.com)
Updated: Jun. 24, 2020 at 6:30 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP/WBTV) - The North Carolina General Assembly has failed to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a measure that would have allowed gyms and bars to open again despite his executive order keeping them closed due to COVID-19.

Republicans in charge of the House were unsuccessful on Wednesday in persuading enough Democratic colleagues to essentially cancel the governor’s veto from last week.

The fitness centers and bars have been shuttered since March. Bars would have been able to only serve patrons outdoors. The bill is one of several seeking to overturn Cooper’s orders designed to dull the coronavirus spread.

Gov.Cooper vetoed the bill that the North Carolina legislature passed to overturn parts of the governor’s executive order that keep certain businesses closed to discourage COVID-19′s spread.

The North Carolina Senate voted June 9 to pass the updated bill to reopen gyms and bars in the state during the coronavirus pandemic. The legislation passed by a 36-13 margin. The House voted on a largely party-line vote June 10 for the measure written by Republicans, many of whom have been critical of Cooper’s slow pace to loosen restrictions on the state economy.

Governor Roy Cooper vetoed this bill, HB 594, on Friday. He signed 11 other bills Friday.

“Tying the hands of public health officials in times of pandemic is dangerous, especially when case counts and hospitalizations are rising. State and local officials must be able to take swift action during the COVID-19 emergency to prevent a surge of patients from overwhelming hospitals and endangering the lives of North Carolinians. The bill could restrict leaders who need to respond quickly to outbreaks and protect public health and safety,” Gov. Cooper said.

The bill would have provided Governor Roy Cooper with the option to re-close those businesses if he got Council of State concurrence, and local health directors could institute orders in their counties on their own authority.

Gov. Cooper also vetoed the original bill state legislators passed to allow bars to reopen.

The state Senate originally voted overwhelmingly to let bars serve customers outdoors, despite the governor’s 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.

“State and local government leaders must be able to act quickly during the COVID-19 emergency to prevent a surge in cases that could overwhelm hospitals and harm the public," Cooper said after signing the bill. "House Bill 536 would limit the ability of leaders to respond quickly to COVID-19 and hamper the health and safety of every North Carolinian.”

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.

Zack Medford, president of the North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association, says the extension of Phase 2 is a “death sentence” for many bars and taverns

“The governor’s decision is effectively signing a death warrant for 1,063 bars across North Carolina while offering zero relief to the small-business owners or their employees,” Medford said. “Asking private bar owners to lose everything they’ve worked for while their competitors can thrive is unconscionable. Enough is enough. This is an issue of fairness. It is time for the courts to decide.” 

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