RIVER ROUTE: Tuesday, Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, introduced legislation in the North Carolina House that would exempt the Aurora/Bayview (pictured) and Cherry Branch/Minnesott Beach ferries from tolls. WILL PRESSLAR | Daily News

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Ferry tolls, 2nd amendment rights on Speciale’s agenda

Published 9:29pm Tuesday, February 5, 2013

State Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, sponsored two bills on the House floor Tuesday — H.B. 62 and H.B. 63 — that address two hot -button issues in eastern North Carolina: firearms and ferry tolls.
House Bill 62 seeks to make the Aurora/Bayview and Cherry Branch/Minnesott Beach ferries exempt from ferry tolls that were slated to go into effect on April 1, 2012, but were staved off by a moratorium imposed by former Gov. Bev Perdue.
“My concern was getting those two off the existing appropriations bill that says they have to be tolled,” Speciale said. “It did bring up some concern with Tine and Cook, because the way it’s written, it would allow a toll on the other two ferries.”
The other two ferries refer to the Hatteras/Ocracoke and Knotts Island ferries, operating in counties represented by the two lawmakers, Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, and Rep. Paul Tine, D-Dare.
Speciale said that the two river ferry routes, which together carry about 534,841 people annually, many of whom use the ferries to commute to work at PotashCorp Aurora and Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station, are commuter ferries, whereas the Hatteras/Ocracoke and Knotts Island ferries are primarily used by tourists. He questioned the reasoning behind making commuters pay a toll.
According to Speciale, $500 million would be collected each year from the Pamlico and Neuse rivers ferries, while the island ferries would collect $1.2 million.
“If they need to do anything, they need to exempt these two and charge the others tolls. … Why should commuters pay a toll and not the tourists?”
Tine’s concerns with Outer Banks tolls touch on the disparity of tolling ferries but not other parts of the state’s transportation system.
“The ferry system is the transportation network in the East,” Tine said. “Out of a $4 billion transportation budget, they’re looking to make $25 million on tolls. It just doesn’t make economic sense.”
He made the point that a chilling effect could be set into play by tolls on Outer Banks ferries: “It keeps getting more and more difficult to do business on Ocracoke and the Outer Banks,” he said. “You keep increasing the cost, it’s less fun to come out there. There’s a tipping point.”
Speciale said tolling the Ocracoke/Hatteras and Knotts Island ferries could mean that appropriations would be unnecessary to account for no tolls on the Aurora/Bayview and Cherry Branch/Minnesott Beach ferries.
Speciale also sponsored H.B. 63, a resolution which he said was modeled after the resolution Beaufort County Commissioners signed on Jan. 18, addressing 2nd Amendment rights. The House resolution expresses “support for the preservation and defense of the Constitutions of the United State and the State of North Carolina,” and “the inalienable right of the people of this State to keep and bear arms and opposes any infringement by the federal government in the State’s right to guarantee the protection of the right of the people of this State to keep and bear arms.”
Twenty-two other representatives co-sponsored the resolution.  According to The Associated Press, outside the Legislative Building in Raleigh about 300 people showed up to voice their support for new state laws broadening access to guns and resisting proposed federal restrictions on what several called their God-given right to bear arms. The gun-rights activists rallied in support of making it legal for North Carolina’s school principals and teachers to carry concealed firearms into the classroom.
According to AP, among the speakers was state Rep. Larry G. Pittman, R-Cabarrus, who said he intends to introduce more legislation with an amendment to the North Carolina Constitution asserting the state’s right to ignore any federal restrictions on gun access or ownership. The proposed amendment would also guarantee the right of citizens to “personally resist” any effort to confiscate their weapons.
Both of Speciale’s bills have been handed off to committees for review before a vote on the House floor: H.B. 62 to the Committee on Transportation; H.B. 63 to the Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House.

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