NC House fails to override Governor Cooper’s veto of House Bill 594: gyms/health clubs/fitness centers

Gym, Fitness Centers and bar owners will have to wait longer to reopen

NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - An attempt to override Governor Cooper’s veto of the bill that would have allowed gyms and health clubs to reopen with certain conditions in place failed in a 66-53 vote Wednesday.

Despite pressure from gym owners desperate to hold onto their businesses, Governor Roy Cooper vetoed House Bill 594 June 18.

In a press conference today, Cooper ordered the state to remain in Phase 2 for three more weeks.

This will leave bars, gyms, health clubs and fitness centers closed until 5 p.m. July 17.

Indoor exercise facilities, gyms and health clubs were among the listed businesses that were ordered to close on March 25, 2020 under Governor Cooper’s Executive Order No. 116.

Indoor exercise facilities include weight rooms, yoga studios, dance studios, martial arts facilities, trampoline parks, rock climbing facilities, basketball, volleyball, tennis and other indoor court sports.

After preparing to reopen under Governor Cooper’s Phase 2 executive order on May 20; gym owners were ordered to remain closed until June 26 at 5 p.m.

Gym owners subsequently filed lawsuits against the administration.

House Bill 594 conditions included a 50 percent capacity limit, daily screening of employees, social distancing, availability of disinfectants and hand sanitizer stations, frequent routine cleanings of high-touch equipment and other measures deemed necessary for safe use of exercise facilities.

"Tying the hands of public health officials in times of pandemic is dangerous, especially when case counts and hospitalizations are rising. State and local officials must be able to take swift action during the COVID-19 emergency to prevent a surge of patients from overwhelming hospitals and endangering the lives of North Carolinians. The bill could restrict leaders who need to respond quickly to outbreaks and protect public health and safety," said Governor Cooper in a statement on HB 594.

Governor Cooper’s actions have left Wilmington bar and gym owners frustrated.

Ryan Gillespie is the owner of Peak Athletics in Wilmington and he’s had to move his training sessions outside. He doesn’t feel like the state is working with gym owners at all.

“We are willing to do whatever it takes to open up,” said Gillespie. “Just give us some restrictions; just give us something. Just don’t say gyms can’t open without saying that you’re willing to work with us on this.”

Gillespie says that his business has taken a huge hit and is lucky to still be open.

“Right now, I’m extremely fortunate that my landlord is working with me,” said Gillespie. “Because if not, there’s no way I would survive. No way.”

After almost three months, indoor exercise facilities and bars are the two main groups that remain closed.

“Once again, the Governor shows that he prioritizes his own power over the livelihoods of responsible small businesses owners and families across North Carolina,” North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore said in a statement.

Two weeks ago, Governor Cooper vetoed House Bill 536, a bill state legislators passed that would have temporarily opened bars for outdoor seating.

Despite dining establishments being allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity, bars still have to remain closed.

Rob Potts is the manager of the Dubliner Bar; he says the bar has more than enough space outside to serve his customers.

And, he would be able to offer a safer environment than some businesses that have been allowed to reopen.

“Current bar and restaurants that are open don’t even have to follow those distancing guidelines,” said Potts “We went out of our way to do that ahead of time in hopes that we could open. We have families and employees and customers that miss this place. And a lot of our customers are going down the road just because they can serve French fries.”

One thing he’s worried about is the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the state and what that could mean in the future to businesses.

“We really hope restaurants don’t close and we have to go back to phase 1,” said Potts. “We’ve been closed for 90 days and we’ve been implementing stuff that restaurants are implementing.”

Some gyms recently opened for people with medical direction and a prescription to exercise after a loophole was discovered in the order.

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