Members of the state House and Senate gave their blessing Thursday to legislation that would override Governor Roy Cooper’s executive order and allow bars to reopen and serve beverages outdoors.
House Bill 536 will permit bar owners to serve customers outdoors temporarily at 50 percent of their indoor capacity.
Establishments with an ABC permit would be required to enforce social distancing to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19.
Supporters say the legislation is a lifeline for businesses struggling to recover after being shuttered for weeks.
Gov. Cooper told reporters Thursday that the legislation has the potential to hurt public health.
“This legislation means that even if there is a surge of COVID-19 that would overwhelm our hospitals, that bars still stay open,” explained Cooper. “There will be a time that we can open bars, but that time is not now.”
Two hours later the state House followed the Senate in passing (65-53) the measure.
Rep. Pat McElraft (R- Carteret) told her colleagues that the coastal communities she represents only have a few short months to maximize their earnings with tourists.
“In Carteret County we had 35 positive COVID patients, three deaths. Those three deaths were already in hospice, in their 80s and 90s. We are not a hot spot.”
Rep. Michael Speciale (R-Craven) said his support of the bill had very little to do with alcohol sales.
“I disagree with the governor. I, Mike Speciale, disagree from a freedom perspective. Do I have all the answers from a medical perspective? No. But neither does the governor,” asserted Speciale.
Rep. Keith Kidwell (R-Craven, Beaufort) also took aim at the governor’s executive order.
“In the United States you have the right to the fruits of your labor,” said Kidwell. “The governor does not have the authority under our laws, under our state constitution or under our federal constitution to do what he has done.”
House Minority Leader Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake), whose wife works in a hospital, tried to persuade his colleagues to slow down and not disregard the governor’s staggered plan for reopening the state.
“We are at an all time high in the number of deaths. We are at an all time high in the number of hospitalizations.”
Click below to hear more of Jackson’s emotional appeal:
HB 536 now heads to the governor’s desk.
On Thursday the state Department of Health and Human Services announced that the state had surpassed 25,000 positive cases of the coronavirus with 827 deaths, 33 more than one day earlier.