RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina House and Senate passed legislation to allow restaurants and bars to expand outdoor seating equal to 50 percent of total occupancy.
The measure passed by a 42-5 margin in the Senate and a closer 65-53 vote in the House. The bill now heads to Governor Cooper’s desk.
Under Governor Cooper's executive order, bars are not allowed to reopen until phase three, which could be several weeks away.
Right now, Gov. Cooper permits restaurants to operate indoors or outdoors at 50 percent capacity but prohibits bars from operating under the same rules.
Sen. Gunn's bill would treat bars and restaurants the same and allow them to operate outdoors at 50 percent of total capacity.
Sen. Gunn said, "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."
Governor Cooper expressed concerns about the legislation during a news conference Thursday afternoon.
"On day when we are seeing some of our highest numbers of hospitalizations and death,” Cooper said, “the Senate wants to open bars."
Cooper said he wants to get the economy reignited in a safe way, but he believes this legislation has the potential to harm public health.
"I know that it is a tough time for businesses, and I believe that there will be a time when we can open bars, but that time is not now,” Cooper said.
While many restaurants with bars have been allowed to reopen on Montford Drive in Charlotte, Jeff’s Bucket Shop is still closed.
"Oh my gosh, everybody's open, except for us and the bowling center, and it's not fair,” said Michaele Laria, owner and manager at Jeff’s Bucket Shop. “All their lights are on. Their signs are on. Everybody's having fun, and they're building their momentum back."
The bill allowing for outdoor seating at bars won’t change very much for Jeff’s Bucket Shop. The bar has a small patio, but the main draw is the karaoke.
"It's really not that helpful,” Laria said. “We're a karaoke bar so we're not set up for outside use. I don't know what that's going to do for us and most of the bars across North Carolina."
Jeff’s Bucket Shop is part of the North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association (NCBATA).
Zack Medford, president of NCBATA, said the bill allowing for outdoor seating at bars is a good step forward, but it still isn’t enough.
"We want to get our message through to the Governor's office that bars can open safely,” Medford said. “We can be just as safe as restaurants, breweries, distilleries, and wineries. We're not asking for any special treatment. We're merely asking for equal treatment."
NCBATA plans to file a lawsuit Friday against Gov. Cooper if an alternative resolution cannot be made.
“The overwhelming majority of bars across North Carolina have ways they can implement these guidelines, and they need to get open,” Medford said. “If it’s safe to enjoy a beer at a brewery or a cocktail at a restaurant, it’s safe to enjoy that same drink at a bar.”