Gov. Cooper vetoes bill to allow outdoor seating

Gov. Roy Cooper briefs media at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh. Photo via NC Dept of Public Safety

RALEIGH – Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed House bill 536, which would have allowed equal treatment of restaurants and bars and for those establishments to operate at 50% capacity outdoors.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Rick Gunn (R-Alamance), would treat bars and restaurants as the same and allow them to operate outdoors at 50% of total capacity.

Sen. Gunn said of the legislation “My bill treats restaurants and bars the same, and it follows the lead of other jurisdictions by allowing safe outdoor seating options. This is a lifeline to a dying industry.”

Cooper said in his veto message “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. 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.”

The N.C. Senate passed the bill by a margin of 42-5 but largely fell along partisan lines in the N.C. House, passing by a vote of 65-53.

During a dial-in media availability last week, Cooper was dismissive of the proposal, saying at the time “We’re six days into phase two and on a day when we’re seeing some of our highest numbers of hospitalizations and death, the senate wants to open bars.” 

The veto comes a day after the North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association filed a suit against the governor, seeking a temporary restraining order to allow their establishments to open during phase two of Cooper’s reopening plan. 

“Despite our numerous requests, the governor’s office has offered no science or data showing that having a drink in a private bar is more dangerous than having a drink in a brewery bar, distillery bar, or even a restaurant bar,” said NCBATA president Zack Medford.

The General Assembly has the option to override the governor’s veto of the bill.