State News

Lawmakers return for veto-override session

Posted August 26, 2008 3:57 p.m. EDT
Updated August 27, 2008 10:18 a.m. EDT

— Safety concerns and the needs of tourism were on the minds of state legislators as they returned to Raleigh Wednesday to consider fighting Gov. Mike Easley's veto of a bill that would ease restrictions on towing boats.

Easley on Monday called for the special session after vetoing House Bill 2167, which would allow boats up to 10 feet wide to be towed without a permit. It also would permit 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 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.

Although the bill passed by wide margins in both chambers, legislative leaders have not decided whether they will vote to overturn Easley's veto, allow the veto to stand or draft a compromise bill.

House Speaker Joe Hackney, D-Orange, believes most members in his chamber want an opportunity to consider the legislation again, his spokesman, Bill Holmes, said Tuesday.

"At this point, there is overwhelming support for overriding the veto," Holmes said.

However, Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, speaking Monday from the Democratic National Convention in Denver, said he did not know what his chamber would do if the House voted to override Easley's veto.

Rand noted that he opposed the legislation and said that most of the fishing tournaments that proponents said would be helped by the legislation have already concluded.

"I think the cost is such that we'd be better served to wait until January to do this," Rand said.

It was also unclear how many lawmakers will attend the scheduled Wednesday morning session, with the relatively short notice and some Democrats out of town for their party's national convention.

Some Democrats, including Hackney, booked last-minute flights back from the convention. As of Tuesday, Easley and Rand did not plan to return.

State Republican leaders derided the special session, saying legislators didn't address more important issues before adjourning for the year.

"Democrats are only coming back to Raleigh so they can collect more checks from the boating industry on the campaign trail," Linda Daves, chairwoman of the state Republican Party, said in a statement.

The state's constitution requires North Carolina governors to call lawmakers back to session within 10 days of vetoing legislation. If they do not, the vetoed bill automatically becomes law.

Legislative leaders can overturn Easley's veto if three-fifths of members present in each chamber vote in favor of the bill. The veto will stand if there are not the requisite votes.

Since voters granted North Carolina governors the power to reject legislation in a 1996 constitutional referendum, the General Assembly has never overridden a veto.

Some vetoes have been sustained because lawmakers declined Easley's call to return to Raleigh for a session.

On others, lawmakers have hashed out last-minute compromises, such as with last year's measure originally written to provide economic incentives only to Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Lawmakers retooled the plan to include Goodyear's competitors.

Holmes acknowledged that lawmakers could adopt the same approach this year.

"They have brokered agreements on these sorts of things before, and they very may well again," Holmes said.