Friday, 26 June 2020 01:47

Compromise bill to open N.C. gyms with restrictions passes both chambers

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Compromise bill to open N.C. gyms with restrictions passes both chambers RO file photo

RALEIGH — Legislators debated past the midnight hour Thursday into Friday on yet another bill that would allow gyms and fitness centers to open amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

House Bill 806 started out as legislation to provide limited immunity from COVID-19 claims to owners of privately owned community swimming pools operated by apartment complexes and homeowners and condo unit owners associations.

But, after passing both chambers, that wording was stripped and substituted in a conference committee.

Under the bill, gyms would be allowed to open at 40 percent capacity — 10 percent less than restaurants.

The bill also requires:

  • All employees to take a health questionnaire and submit to temperature checking each day; any employee showing symptoms or fever are not allowed in the building.
  • All employees to wear a face mask, unless leading a class or when outdoors and socially distanced; and encourages members and guests to wear masks.
  • Contactless check-ins with social distancing markers on the floors
  • EPA-approved disinfectant wipes or spray bottles available throughout the facility
  • Hand-sanitizer stations throughout the facility
  • Employees to conduct frequent routine cleanings of high-touch equipment or high-use areas during open hours and a deep cleaning at least once every 24 hours.
  • Signs promoting social distancing and equipment and patrons to remain six feet apart
  • Childcare to be limited to 50 percent
  • The closure of personal hygiene and amenity services areas, except toilets, lavatories and lockers where social distancing is to be maintained.
  • Water fountains limited to filling up bottles only.

(Note: The text of the bill is attached to this story.)

The measure passed its last vote in the Senate 35-11, with eight Democrats siding with the Republicans; and passed the House 75-31. Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond voted in favor in the Senate.

Although some bars have been allowed to open through rules from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, others, like Double Vision in Rockingham, have remained closed since St. Patrick’s Day per one of Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive orders.

Likewise, gyms and fitness centers have also been closed since late March.

A common complaint from Republicans and business owners is that Cooper's orders weren't fair to all businesses. Large retailers were allowed to remain open, while smaller businesses were kept shut.

"The state needs to treat all businesses equally,"Sen. Vickie Sawyer, R-Iredell, said in a statement. "A 'dimmer switch' should apply to every light, not a select few."

Last month, Evolution Health Club owner Blake Altman opened his doors, in protest of the order, and was slapped with a misdemeanor. While other gyms closed after being cited or threatened with citation, Altman has remained open.

"Every state that borders North Carolina has reopened gyms and bars,” Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a statement earlier Thursday. “The governor can walk maskless with a group of protesters, but won't let you take your son or daughter to the playground. These inconsistencies continue to eat away at trust in his administration."

Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, had introduced several similar reopening bills, the latest of which was vetoed by Cooper.

"I'm sick of Democrats hiding behind technical disagreements about the separation of powers," Gunn said in a statement. "Thousands of people's livelihoods hinge on whether they can reopen their businesses, and that consideration is more important that squabbles about power. These new bills strip the Governor and the Democrats of the objection they've lodged to the reopening bills. Enough is enough — let's get these businesses open." 

A veto override failed to pass Wednesday, with Rep. Scott Brewer, D-Richmond, providing one of the no votes.

Brewer said he voted against it because it allowed establishments to open with “no accountability” and “would have stripped local and state health officials of their ability to react appropriately to the challenges of COVID-19.”

“After the vote Wednesday, I met with other legislators, staff and representatives of the gym and fitness center industry in a good faith bi-partisan effort to discuss the next steps,” Brewer said in a statement early Friday morning.

“We successfully compromised to remove the parts of the former bill that would have restricted local governments and health directors from swiftly responding to future outbreaks,” Brewer continued. “For some people in politics, compromise is frowned upon. But to legislate, you must be willing to work with others. Today we did that, and I’m happy that we reached an agreement to help these businesses and workers safely begin to restart, while making sure that public health remains their top priority.”

The bill now heads to Cooper’s desk for approval or another veto.



Last modified on Friday, 26 June 2020 02:25