Gov. Mike Easley has called the legislature to Raleigh for a session Wednesday to vote on wide boats and possibly give Easley an unwelcome place in history.
N.C. lawmakers may override a governor's veto for the first time.
“There is overwhelming support for an override,” said Bill Holmes, spokesman for House Speaker Joe Hackney, an Orange County Democrat.
Easley, a Democrat, vetoed a bill that would ease rules on transporting boats on state roads. So he is required to call the legislature back – at a cost of an extra $50,000 a day – to vote on whether to trump his veto. Hackney is at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, as are a number of lawmakers, and the session may force a hasty return. Three-fifths of the lawmakers must vote to override for the bill to become law without Easley's signature.
The bill allows boats and boat trailers between 81/2 feet and 10feet wide to travel on state roads without a special permit and flags, as currently required. The bill relaxed other restrictions, allowing wide boat traffic at night, for example.
Easley, the first governor to use the veto, said the legislation created a safety hazard. Coastal legislators said current restrictions harm commercial and recreational fishing. “He's damaging our economy for no good reason,” Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, a Manteo Democrat, said last week.
State troopers investigated 300 accidents last year involving drivers transporting boats, and issued five tickets for boats that were beyond the allowed width.
Those numbers are being highlighted by both sides in the debate.
Easley and the Highway Patrol say it proves they are neither targeting boaters nor hurting the fishing and tourism industries. “We can't find a boat builder who thinks it's a problem,” Easley said Monday.
Easley said in a statement late Monday afternoon that he would at least urge lawmakers to limit blood alcohol levels for drivers towing oversized boats to .04, the same as for commercial drivers. Easley also suggested drivers towing oversized boats should be at least 18 and that boats cannot be towed at night.
Easley is lobbying for a middle ground, as he did on his previous eight vetoes, Basnight said. “He's working everybody to make sure the override does not occur, and reach a compromise that makes both sides look like they win,” Basnight said.
The bill's supporters say the numbers prove wide boats aren't a problem and challenged Easley's dire warnings about a yacht slicing into a school bus on a narrow road.
“The governor's veto message is filled with misinformation, and/or incorrect information,” legislative staffers wrote in a memo to lawmakers. “Boats greater than 8.5 feet can use any road today from dawn to dusk on weekdays (school days). Therefore, these boats are currently using these same routes with these same school buses passing over these same narrow bridges every day. The veto of this bill will not change that fact.”
North Carolina gave the governor veto power in 1997 through a constitutional amendment, but then-Gov. Jim Hunt never used it. The wide boat veto was Easley's ninth.