Editor’s note: This story was updated Tuesday, April 13.
A House Judiciary committee on Tuesday, April 13, quickly approved a bill that would fully reopen bars and restaurants, as long as they follow specific safety guidelines. The bill, House Bill 211, heads to that body’s Alcohol Beverage Control Committee.
Restrictions on N.C. businesses continues, even though more than 40% of the state’s adult population has been vaccinated, according to the state’s health department. More than 30% have received two doses of the vaccine.
In late March, Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order allowing restaurants to open at 75% capacity indoors, and outdoors at 100%. Same goes for wineries, breweries, and distilleries. Bars and movie theaters can open at 50% capacity, indoors and out. Cooper also removed the 11 p.m. curfew for alcohol sales.
The order, which keeps the mask mandate, expires April 30.
H.B. 211 requires that employees undergo daily temperature checks and health screenings, frequently clean “high-touch” areas, and “deep clean” each night.
Private bars, for all intents and purposes, had been closed for nearly a year before being allowed to reopen at the end of February.
If the establishment offers buffet-style service or self-service, it must provide disposable gloves and require masks while guests and employees are using the buffet-style service or self-service. The bill also limits the number of guests at each table to no more than 10 who are seated together at the same time, unless all 10 guests are members of the same household.
“The hospitality industry lies at the heart of who we are as North Carolinians,” Tim Moffitt, R-Henderson, a primary sponsor, says in a news release. “The pandemic has threatened to leave permanent scars in our communities, and if we continue to treat these businesses differently than our neighboring states, the legacy will last for decades.
Moffitt, in the committee meeting Tuesday, called it “a fairly straightforward bill.” It moved out of the Judiciary committee without debate and with only one question, which led to a confirmation that the measure, if passed, would supersede an executive order.
“I believe we can trust our small businesses to open and operate in a thoughtful, safe and appropriate manner, as many other non-hospitality businesses are doing. These businesses have been disproportionately impacted, and it is my belief that we are at a point, where following appropriate guidelines should allow for re-opening.”
Another measure involving alcohol, House Bill 73, passed the N.C. House with just one dissenting vote and passed a third reading in the Senate. Moffitt is also a primary sponsor. That bill waives, for a year, certain ABC renewal and registration fees for 13 categories of alcohol permittees and permits. It’s expected to pass and go to Cooper.
Moffitt also sponsored House Bill 4, which is now law. The move extends the delay on payment deadlines for the renewal of certain alcohol permits. The extension continues until 90 days after all executive orders limiting permittees’ full operation are rescinded or expire, the bill says. The bill allows certain ABC permittees whose operation is limited by executive orders responding to the COVID-19 pandemic to request a refund of any permit fees paid for the 2020-21 permit year. It directs the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission to reinstate or reactivate any permits canceled or moved to inactive status.
More than 120 bars across North Carolina lost their licenses in January because they hadn’t paid fees to the state. Most fell behind on their fees because they were out of money; Cooper had shut down all private bars as part of his COVID-19 regulations.