Wider-boat bill to be revisited

Published 6:56 pm Tuesday, August 26, 2008

By By TED STRONG Staff Writer
A bill that would allow wider boats on North Carolina roadways will get a second chance Wednesday when the General Assembly reconvenes to consider overriding the governor’s veto of the bill.
The bill would help North Carolina’s economy without creating any major new risk, said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Arthur Williams, a Democrat from Beaufort County.
Gov. Mike Easley cited safety concerns when he vetoed the bill.
The bill aims to allow boats of 9.5 feet to be towed without a permit ? a foot wider than current regulations allow. And it looks to allow the wider boats to be towed anytime, including at night and on holidays ? something the current rules don’t allow.
He noted that boat-manufacturer sales have slumped lately, as well.
A 60-percent majority is required to beat Easley’s veto. Easley’s eight other vetoes have proven impregnable, but Williams has said he thinks his bill has the votes it needs to get around the veto.
One of the biggest opponents of the bill has been the N.C. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, which includes the state’s Highway Patrol.
The General Assembly should have killed the bill because it presents a risk to public safety, said Bryan E. Beatty, secretary of the department.
Williams and Beatty made a point of saying they have long worked together well, and that each likes the other.
Concessions Williams made on the bill ? dropping the proposed width 6 inches to 9.5 feet and adding amber lights at the widest points of boats and trailers ? weren’t enough, Beatty said.
He particularly wants to see a tougher standard for driving while intoxicated while towing the wider trailers, he said.
And at night it wouldn’t be apparent to oncoming motorists how wide the boats were ? even with the amber lights, Beatty said.
There were only five tickets for over-width boats issued in 2007, Beatty said. His department is still working to pull numbers for the first part of 2008.
But any step up in enforcement of boat-width regulations is a result of filled vacancies in the division that enforces boat-width and size and weight rules on the state’s highways, he said. The division was short almost 100 people when it was moved from the control of the Department of Transportation to Crime Control and Public Safety in 2003, but it is now nearly full, he said.
Beatty also emphasized that other nearby states have regulations that in many ways mirror North Carolina’s.
But the proposal ? which has drawn national interest ? is really quite modest, Williams said.
According to the North Carolina constitution, when a veto occurs after the General Assembly has adjourned, the governor is required to reconvene the session within 10 days of the veto or the bill becomes law.
The state constitution allows lawmakers to not follow Easley’s call back to Raleigh if legislative leaders collect signatures from a majority of members saying such. But so far, there are no plans to do that.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.