By Nyamekye Daniel
(The Center Square) – Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed eight bills ahead of the Fourth of July weekend, half of which were aimed at overriding his executive orders.
Cooper said the bills that would have reopened businesses he has kept closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic would hindered state officials from responding to a crisis.
“Tying the hands of public health officials in times of pandemic is dangerous, especially when case counts and hospitalizations are rising,” Cooper said in a statement July 2. “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.”
One of the vetoed measures, House Bill 686, would have blocked executive or local orders that prohibit fireworks or parades during the holiday through July 10.
Under Cooper’s current executive order, North Carolinians can partake in July 4 outdoor activities as long as only 25 people are present, wearing masks and standing six feet apart.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported 1,629 new cases of COVID-19 on July 2, raising the state’s overall number of cases to 68,142 since March.
An average of 9% of tests have returned positive for the coronavirus in the past seven days, and 912 people are in the hospital with COVID-19-like symptoms.
Cooper also vetoed three bills that would have reopened amusement parks, reception halls, arcades, small outdoor concession stands, gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, skating rinks and other entertainment venues.
“In these places, people gather in close proximity, are indoors with recirculating air, stay in the space for [an] extended period of time and engage in physical exertion,” Cooper said.
“It makes no sense for the governor to prohibit people in, for example, Graham County, which has had nine total cases since March, from exercising at the gym,” said Sen. Todd Johnson, R-Union. “The cost in mental and physical health of keeping gyms closed in a county with nine cases far outweighs the minuscule risk of viral transmission in that area.”
Cooper declared a state of emergency March 10, which allows him to issue the executive orders in response to the public health crisis.
Cooper also struck down Senate Bill 105, which would have increased the Council of State’s oversight over his orders.
The bill included a provision that would have required the governor to seek concurrence from the council 24 hours before issuing an order, among other things.
The council consists of the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, state treasurer, state auditor, commissioner of labor, commissioner of agriculture, insurance commissioner and superintendent of public instruction.
“Placing additional bureaucratic and administrative obligations on the declaration of a state of emergency is a substantial change in the law,” Cooper said.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest filed a lawsuit July 1 in which he contends Cooper lacks the authority under the Emergency Management Act to shut down North Carolina without the concurrence of the Council of State.
Cooper also vetoed House Bill 652. The measure would have allowed guns on school property while it is being used for church services.
Other bills Cooper vetoed were House Bill 918 and House Bill 612.
HB 918 would have expedited the process for out-of-home placements for babies who are exposed to illicit drugs when they are born. Cooper said the law would discourage pregnant women substance abuse issues from seeking treatment or prenatal care.
HB 612 would have required a review of all the rules and policies of the N.C. Division of Social Services. Cooper said the bill is an overreach of authority by the General Assembly.
“HB 612 limits the ability of the Department of Health and Human Services to implement, adapt to and oversee programs of public assistance and child welfare, which are regulated and driven by federal law, thereby jeopardizing the health, safety and well-being of our most vulnerable populations,” he said.