Senators say pandemic not legitimate reason for cities to stop July 4th fireworks, parades

Posted June 19, 2020 5:50 p.m. EDT
Updated June 19, 2020 6:34 p.m. EDT

— Cities cannot deny permits for someone to hold a July 4th parade or a fireworks display because of concerns over the coronavirus pandemic under a bill that cleared the Senate on Friday.

After the 27-15 vote, the bill heads to the House for a final vote before it could wind up on Gov. Roy Cooper's desk days before the holiday.

House Bill 686, dubbed "Freedom to Celebrate the Fourth of July," also would prevent state officials from invoking the pandemic-related closure orders to halt a parade or fireworks display and would preclude any misdemeanor charges against people for violating the state order to celebrate the holiday.

Sponsor Sen. Jim Burgin, R-Harnett, said parades and fireworks are outdoors with plenty of opportunities for social distancing.

Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, said it was fine if cities and towns don't want to sponsor their own parades or displays, but they shouldn't stop civic groups that want to do so "without good cause.

"You can't just have a bogus reason. You have to have a good reason," Daniel said.

"Are issues about concerns about protecting public safety a bogus reason?" asked Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg.

"That would not be a reason to deny a permit," Daniel replied. "If we're going to be allowing peaceful protesting – or even violent protesting – [during the pandemic], we should be allowing the celebration of the Fourth of July."

If a group sponsoring a parade or fireworks display has been approved for a permit in years past and the event is substantially the same this year, they should be granted a permit once again, he said.

"As much as I love the holiday," Marcus said, "I can't say that we should override the judgment of our local elected officials."

An amendment Daniel sponsored also would allow celebrations at any time from July 1 to July 10.

Sen. Joyce Waddell, D-Mecklenburg, said allowing people 10 days to celebrate the holiday is too long.

"I think that's overreaching," Waddell said. "I don't want to hear fireworks in my neighborhood that length of time."

The Senate also approved the following bills:

  • Senate Bill 730, the "No Patient Left Alone Act," which would require hospitals to allow patients to have one visitor. Many hospitals have barred visitors during the pandemic.
  • House Bill 652, the "Freedom to Worship Safely Act," which would allow anyone with a concealed carry permit to be armed in a church, even if that building is a school that the church uses to hold services.
  • House Bill 258, which would allow amusement parks, wedding venues and other businesses that Cooper has closed during the pandemic to reopen. Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, added an amendment that would also allow fairs and carnivals to operate.
  • House Bill 425, which would provide $1.2 million to fund Conner's Law. That measure was passed last year to increase the penalty for using a gun to assault a law enforcement officer and increase the survivor's benefit for the families of slain officers.
  • Senate Bill 739, which would allow businesses to operate delivery robots on public sidewalks.
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