Local Politics

Lawmakers override boat-towing veto

Posted August 27, 2008 11:03 a.m. EDT
Updated August 27, 2008 7:05 p.m. EDT

— The General Assembly made history Wednesday by overriding its first veto after failing to reach a deal with Gov. Mike Easley's office on a boat-towing bill.

House members voted 95-8 and senators voted 39-0 Wednesday morning to override Easley's recent veto of House Bill 2167.

"The governor felt strongly, obviously, about the bill, but the General Assembly felt strongly as well. That's why we have a constitution," said state Sen. Richard Stevens, R-Wake.

The new law allows boats up to 10 feet wide to be towed without a permit. It also permits watercraft up to 9.5 feet wide to be towed at night and on weekends.

Supporters argued the bill would help North Carolina boaters and fishing tournaments hampered by state law that permits boats up to 8.5 feet wide to be towed only during daylight hours on weekdays.

Easley cited concerns that were echoed by the state Highway Patrol that having bigger boats on the road would cause accidents. Easley also said he was disappointed it did not limit the blood-alcohol level for boat towers.

AAA officials said they were disappointed by the override.

“North Carolina’s highway death toll is rising faster than any state in the nation,” David Parsons, president and chief executive of AAA Carolinas, said in a statement. “The legislature, as it has often done in the past, is allowing oversize vehicles to travel on roads with lanes too narrow for the vehicle without showing adequate concern for those who might encounter those vehicles on the road.”

North Carolina had the nation’s greatest increase in deaths last year, with 121 more than in 2006.

House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman said days of negotiations between lawmakers and Easley's representatives hadn't produced a compromise on the measure, prompting the override vote.

"His safety concerns were overblown, (and) the vast majority of both houses had already voted on these issues," Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger said.

Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, and others said Easley wasted the $50,000 it cost to bring lawmakers back to Raleigh when he could have raised his concerns when the General Assembly first passed the bill.

"Call (a special session) about something important, not something (because) you just have a bone to pick with the sponsors of this bill," said state Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake.

House Speaker Joe Hackney, who flew back to Raleigh early Wednesday from the Democratic National Convention in Denver, said he had no quibble about the special session.

"The governor has the right to veto bills. He has the right to call us back into session. So, that's what the law is. There's no reason to complain about it," Hackney said.

Wednesday's votes mark the first time in North Carolina that lawmakers have overridden a gubernatorial veto.

No governor in the state had veto power until voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1996 allowing it. Former Gov. Jim Hunt never used the veto, and Easley's first eight vetoes either failed an override vote or resulted in a legislative compromise.