News: Quick Takes

Republican Senators want to remove penalties for violating governor’s COVID-19 executive orders 

Gov. Roy Cooper speaks at a Coronavirus Task Force briefing April 3, 2020. (Pool photo from Department of Public Safety)
Gov. Roy Cooper speaks at a Coronavirus Task Force briefing April 3, 2020. (Pool photo from Department of Public Safety)

Some Senate Republicans want to take the teeth from Gov. Roy Cooper’s COVID-19 emergency executive orders, which they say are killing small businesses. 

Sens. Warren Daniel, R-Burke; Vickie Sawyer, R-Iredell; and Carl Ford, R-Rowan, introduced Senate Bill 712, aka the NC Freedom to Work Act, on May 5. 

“This bill is about protecting the rights guaranteed to our citizens in our U.S. and North Carolina constitutions,” Daniel said in a news release. “People have a right to work and put food on the table for their families.”

S.B. 712 removes criminal penalties for anyone who violates the five executive orders Cooper issued between March and April. Current prosecutions for violating the outlined orders would be abated. The bill sets the maximum fines for violating COVID-19 local orders at $25 for a first offense, and $1 per day for each subsequent violation. 

Under the bill, occupational licensing boards would be prohibited from revoking a license or issuing fines against a license holder who violates the aforementioned orders. 

“At a time when many states are releasing inmates due to the pandemic, we shouldn’t be refilling those prison vacancies with law-abiding small business owners who are just trying to save everything they’ve ever worked for,” Daniel said. 

The bill is past due, said Jon Sanders, director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation. 

“The governor’s orders have applied a subjective, random approach to whose labors are “essential” and whose aren’t,” Sanders said. “As we’re closing in on two months of this, many small businesses are just that: closing.”

Some owners are choosing to reopen rather than bankrupt their businesses, Sanders said, and they’ve been subject to high-profile arrests.

An Apex tattoo artist was arrested on charges of opening his parlor April 29 in violation of the statewide stay-at-home order. Matthew Myers, owner of Apex Tattoo Factory, could face a $1,000-fine or a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail, WRAL reported. 

Some Republicans, including Daniel, have criticized Cooper’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

After Cooper’s announcement of his three-pronged approach to reopening the state, Daniel tweeted his concerns that restaurants, gyms, and hair and nail salons wouldn’t survive much longer under the lockdown. 

Cooper announced May 5 that Phase One of his reopen plan would begin May 8. State parks will reopen, but restaurants, private clubs, hair salons, and gyms will remain closed. The order removes the distinction between essential and non-essential businesses. Retail businesses can open at 50% capacity and are required to frequently clean their establishments and maintain social distancing. 

The state could enter Phase Two if key metrics are met in combating COVID-19, the governor said. 

Meanwhile, protesters continue taking to the streets to rally against the stay-at-home orders. ReopenNC, an anti-lockdown Facebook group, has gathered in downtown Raleigh for the past four weeks to protest the restrictions.