Cooper vetoes bill that would have allowed gyms and fitness centers to open

roy cooper covid 19 2020
June 2, 2020 — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper speaks during a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, N.C.

RALEIGH – Gov. Roy Cooper today vetoed HB 594, which would have allowed gyms, health clubs, and fitness centers to open.

“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” said Cooper in a statement about the veto.

State Sen. Rick Gunn immediately responded to the veto, saying “On the same day attorneys argued in court that Gov. Cooper’s different treatment of bars and restaurants is inexplicable, Gov. Cooper vetoed this economic lifeline for thousands of businesses across North Carolina.”

Gunn’s statement continues, saying “Our state is one of only four that has not reopened gyms and fitness centers. Why did he walk with protesters without a mask on, but prohibits everyday citizens from using an elliptical machine at a gym? Why is it safe to have a drink outside at a restaurant, but it’s dangerous to have a drink outside at a bar? Gov. Cooper needs to release the science behind these apparent contradictions.”

Gov. Cooper took action on 12 bills total, signing 11 others into law.

Several of the gym and fitness club owners reacted to the veto with disappointment and frustration.

Danny Richiani, a franchise owner of a HotWorx Infrared Fitness Studio in Wilmington, said that he is “deeply saddened” by Cooper’s veto.

“I don’t understand why Governor Cooper sees exercise, which strengthens your immune system, as a bad thing,” said Richiani. “He allows types of businesses to remain open which Weakens and harms your immune system like the ABC stores but won’t allow gyms to open which would be a great ally in the battle against COVID-19.”

Richiani and his husband Craig Cadogan were two of a number of fitness, health club and dance studio owners who met with Lt. Governor Dan Forest near the end of May. The group shared stories of losing their life savings trying to hang on to their businesses while the governor’s orders had kept them shut down.

“Our industry is one that helps improve medical and emotional health, which in turn builds up a healthy immune system,” said Robin Smith, one of the health club plaintiffs suing Cooper over his Phase Two order. “By depriving healthy people of their ability to improve their health, Cooper is doing the citizens of this state a great injustice.”

The suit brought by fitness centers and gyms sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the governor’s order until their request for an injunction could be heard. Earlier this month, the request for the TRO was denied by Senior Business Court Judge James L. Gale but his motion stated that it will “allow submission of additional materials prior to ruling on pending motions for a preliminary injunction.”

Smith said that successful health clubs and studios across the state have already been zealous about their cleaning practices and that “members do not go to dirty clubs.” She said those same businesses are now “even more scrupulous about their cleaning procedure – far more scrupulous than big box stores that have been open the whole time.”

“We are very disappointed in the governor’s veto and encourage all North Carolinians to contact their representatives in order to overturn it,” said Smith.

North State Journal reporter A.P. Dillon contributed to this report.