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Bill would fully reopen bars, restaurants and other businesses
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Bill would fully reopen bars, restaurants and other businesses

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The Biden administration is warning against virus fatigue and encouraging Americans to continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing despite many states easing restrictions.

A state House bill introduced Wednesday could represent the first step in fully opening segments of the North Carolina economy.

House Bill 211 would allow restaurants, bars, wineries and distilleries to reopen at full capacity.

The bill, which has Rep. Jeff Zenger, R-Forsyth, as one of three primary sponsors, faces long odds of passage, foremost because it would supersede any emergency executive order from Gov. Roy Cooper or local municipal and county ordinance.

Cooper has vetoed several Republican-sponsored reopening bills during the 2020 and 2021 sessions out of concerns that the bills would hamstring the flexibility needed for state and local government officials to quickly respond to another COVID-19 surge.

HB211 has been to the House Judiciary 1 committee. It must clear three committee steps before going to the House floor.

“Local businesses have shown their flexibility and resiliency to stay in business with reduced capacity and make necessary changes to keep customers safe,” Zenger said.

“House Bill 211 balances the needs of our local businesses with the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic to allow bars and restaurants to open at full capacity while they continue to follow certain safety guidelines ...”

The bill would require all employees to self-administer or undergo a temperature check daily before beginning work, answer a health questionnaire and be sent home if showing any COVID-19 symptoms.

The bill also would require “frequent, routine cleanings of high-touch and high-use areas during hours of operation and a thorough, deep-cleaning and sanitation” after closing hours.

Other requirements would include providing guests and staff with disposable gloves and masks if offering buffet or self-service. Beverages could not be self-served.

No more than 10 guests could be seated at a single table.

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Zenger said that HB211 “is important because these establishments aren’t able to sustain themselves under their current reduced capacity.”

To qualify, businesses would have to have opened before March 10, 2020 with all necessary licenses and permits.

Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation, said it is possible that HB211 could have widespread support within the General Assembly.

“Whether that support translates into approval likely depends on how willing Republican legislative leaders are to pick another separation-of-powers fight with Gov. Roy Cooper.

“Cooper would likely veto a measure like this one, and he would call on his Democratic allies in the legislature to support him,” Kokai said. “If Cooper and legislative Democrats are willing to fight Republican lawmakers over the politically popular reopening of schools, it stands to reason they would be at least as willing to fight over bars.”

House Bill 73

Thursday, the state House approved legislation that would waive certain ABC permit renewal fees for bars for a full year.

The bipartisan House Bill 73 passed the House by a 116-1 vote. It has been sent to the Senate for consideration.

HB73, which has Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, as one of its primary sponsors, would waive permit fees from May 1, 2021, to April 30, 2022.

The bill would cover 13 types of permits: on-premises malt beverage; on-premises unfortified wine; on-premises fortified wine; mixed beverages; culinary; mixed beverages catering; guest room cabinet; wine tasting; wine shop; malt beverage tasting; spirituous liquor tasting; antique spirituous liquor; and common area entertainment.

Bar owners who have prepaid ABC permit fees for 2021-22 could request a refund.

Lambeth said there would be an estimated $25 million in permit fees affected by the waiver.

Bars already had payment deadlines extended for certain ABC permit renewals, retroactive to June 30, 2020, after a move by Gov. Roy Cooper last month.

HB4 also directs the ABC Commission to reinstate or reactivate select ABC permits that were canceled or moved to inactive status during 2020.

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@rcraverWSJ

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