The state House approved two Republican-sponsored bills Wednesday that would allow some athletic venues to expand attendance to 50% of their seating capacity.
House Bill 128, a statewide public bill, passed by a 77-42 margin with the support of eight Democrats.
House Bill 118, a local bill affecting 14 counties including Davidson in the Triad, was approved by a 74-45 vote with five Democrats agreeing. A local bill cannot be vetoed by the governor and had a 14-county participation limit.
The bills were sent to the Senate for consideration.
“This is an issue of major concern for families across the state,” Kyle Hall, R-Stokes, and a primary bill sponsor, said during Wednesday’s House Rules and Operations committee meeting.
“They want to be able to support their loved ones and their teams.”
With football season under way for N.C. High School Athletic Association schools, there has been a sense of urgency to increase the number of fans allowed at games.
Football tickets typically are the main funding sources for most high school athletic departments.
HB128 is the broader of the two legislations in that it goes beyond athletic contests to include graduation and commencement ceremonies, and other outdoor extracurricular events.
The bill would allow up to 50% seating and no less than 30%. For facilities that don’t have stated attendance capacity, the limit would be 14 spectators per 1,000 square feet.
By comparison, Gov. Roy Cooper’s Executive Order No. 195 on Feb. 24 set outdoor settings at 30% of capacity, but no longer with a 100-person cap.
Indoor venues with more than 5,000 seats can open at 15% capacity, which affects many college and professional sports facilities in the state, such as the Joel Coliseum, Greensboro Coliseum, Smith Center in Chapel Hill, PNC Arena in Raleigh and Spectrum Center in Charlotte.
“These arbitrary limits are not based in science and unfairly punish our students and their families,” Hall said.
“It simply does not make sense that restaurants, gyms, pools, museums and amusement parks can open at 50% capacity (allowed under Executive Order No. 195), yet outdoor sporting events are restricted to 30% and indoor venues to 15%.”
Excluded from the capacity limits in HB128 are athletes, graduating students and their family members, school employees, entertainers, such as cheerleaders and band members, and support staff.
K-12 schools would be required to follow the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit that debuted on Feb. 2.
Youth and amateur sports programs would follow the interim guidance for administrators and participants as set on Feb. 26.
Public and private colleges, community colleges and universities would adhere to the interim guidance for institutions of higher education established on Dec. 23.
The law would go into effect when signed into law and expire on Dec. 31. It would be applicable anytime an executive or health secretarial order puts the capacity limit before 50%.
HB118 also covers Avery, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Montgomery, Rowan, Stanly, Union and Yancey counties.
Meanwhile, Senate Bill 116 cleared the Senate by a 34-15 vote Tuesday. It has been placed in the House Education K-12 committee.
SB116, a statewide public bill, and HB118 contain much of the same language with their focus on high schools.
While HB118 has the 50% maximum seating capacity, SB has a 40% maximum seating capacity.
Both bills allow up to seven spectators per 1,000 square feet for a venue without a seating capacity. They would not count spectators who bring their own seats in the capacity limits.
SB118 would not prohibit schools or school districts from implementing stricter limits on the number of spectators.