Bill to reopen N.C. bowling alleys, rinks head to Cooper

A limited number of lawmakers gather on the House floor as the North Carolina General Assembly opens a new session amid the current COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, April 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

RALEIGH — North Carolina legislators sent another bill on Thursday to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper designed to overturn parts of his executive order for COVID-19 that’s kept several types of retail businesses shuttered for months.

The General Assembly finalized a measure to let bowling alleys and ice and roller rinks to reopen at a reduced capacity, with employees wearing masks, sanitizing equipment and enforcing social distancing. The bill also attempts to let restaurants within minor league ballparks — where seasons already are cancelled — serve larger groups of patrons for special events.

The bill, which already passed the House, now goes to Cooper, who has already vetoed one measure that sought to reopen bars by letting them serve patrons outdoors. He’s said legislation wasn’t the way to address commerce limitations during a pandemic when case numbers could easily spike. He also must act by Saturday on a similar measure to help gyms in addition to bars.

With another reopening measure for amusement parks, arcades and wedding receptions advancing through a Senate committee on Thursday, Cooper signaled that these and other bills likely will be vetoed.

“It’s pretty easy to vote for a bill that lifts a restriction when you don’t have to deal with the consequences,” Cooper said at a media briefing. “I think it’s important for us to think about the consequences for everything we do.”

Cooper’s current order, which expires June 26, allows restaurants to offer dine-in seating and to let barber shops and hair and nail salons are open — but all at reduced capacity. Cooper said he will announce next week whether his order will be eased further.

In the meantime, more business owners struggling to survive financially because they’ve been closed since March are coming to legislators to intervene. Many of them have said they were surprised when Cooper kept their businesses closed when his latest order began in late May.

“You can understand that these small businesses do not trust this June 26 date,” said Republican Sen. Vickie Sawyer of Iredell County, who helped shepherd the bowling alley and skating rink bill. The Senate passed the measure 32-15.

The Senate also approved a bill on Thursday limiting the liability of essentially any business, university or government entity that is sued by someone who had contracted COVID-19. The entity would be protected if it took reasonable steps to reduce transmission risks and let patrons know about those actions and what rules of entry are.

“Keeping business and schools closed is not an option,” bill sponsor Sen. Paul Newton of Cabarrus County before the measure passed the chamber 40-7. Newton said changing health standards for the coronavirus would otherwise place the entities under the threat of “crushing litigation.” They would still face damages for gross negligence or intentional wrongdoing.

Another bill approved 39-8 by the Senate on Thursday would give similar liability limitations upon homeowners’ associations when they reopen community swimming pools.

Both liability bills also would have to be approved by the House. Legislative leaders could end this year’s annual session by next weekend.