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Senate bill seeks to allow more fans at outdoor sports

Republican Senate lawmakers have introduced a bill that would change the 100-person capacity limit at outdoor high school sporting venues.

Senate Bill 116 would change the 100-person limit to 40 percent of an outdoor facility’s capacity.

Sens. Todd Johnson, R-Union; Vickie Sawyer, R-Iredell; and Danny Britt, R-Robeson; introduced the measure.

Under Gov. Roy Cooper’s current executive orders, no more than 100 fans may watch high school athletes compete at large outdoor venues, such as football fields. As a result of the restriction, close family of high school athletes can’t watch the students compete, a news release says.

Outdoor facilities like football fields and stands are often large enough to accommodate more people and still allow for ample social distancing. For example, Johnson pointed to Cuthbertson High School in Union County. Its football stands can hold 2,976 people, yet Cooper’s restriction only allows for 100 people, or 3 percent  capacity, the release says.

“Many parents have reached out to my office with the legitimate complaint that they can’t watch their children compete in outdoor sports even though many facilities can hold much more than 100 people and still abide by social distancing guidelines,” Johnson said. “The current 100-person limit is unreasonable and ignores the reality that many outdoor high school sports facilities are very large and can accommodate many more socially distanced fans.”

The N.C. High School Sports Association announced that prep football would be played from Feb. 8 through April 9, with a seven-game season.

Legislators on Thursday also sent Cooper a letter asking that he amend his latest executive order to accomplish the same goal as S.B. 116. Amending the executive order would be a much quicker way to resolve the problem, but legislators will advance their bill if necessary, the release says.

Cooper said in a news conference Thursday that state health officials are looking at the issue, and he plans to issue a new executive order next week. It’s unclear what the new order will address, however.

Cooper also addressed Senate Bill 37, which would reopen schools to in-person learning from students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The General Assembly passed the bill Wednesday. Cooper, though, says he has concerns about the measure. He asked that social-distancing guidelines be more strict, and that any move ensures local emergency departments won’t be negatively affected by students returning to class.

Cooper has 10 days to sign, veto, or do nothing with school reopening bill, Republican lawmakers say in a release.

“Parents and children have waited long enough for some level of certainty in their public education," state Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, who co-chairs the Senate Education Committee, said. "I hope that Gov. Cooper chooses not to drag this out for another week and a half. This is a two-page bill that’s been in the public for weeks.

“If a veto is coming, then do it now so the legislature can vote to override. If the governor intends to let it become law, then he should sign it instead of taking the politically expedient option of dragging this out to the end of the month just so he can tell the far-left NCAE he didn’t attach his signature to it.”