Wide-boat bill becomes a law

Published 7:27 pm Thursday, August 28, 2008

By Staff
In a North Carolina first, governor’s veto overridden
Staff Writer
RALEIGH — In less than an hour Wednesday morning, the N.C. General Assembly swept away years of precedent, overriding Gov. Mike Easley’s veto off a bill that allows larger boats to be towed on the state’s roads.
It was the first time a veto was overridden since North Carolina governors gained that power in 1996. Easley has vetoed eight bills since taking office in 2001.
Williams said he is disappointed the matter came down to an override vote.
The measure passed overwhelmingly — the House voted 92-7, the Senate voted 39-0 — easily meeting the requirement of a 60-percent majority in each chamber.
When he vetoed the bill, Easley asked legislators to wait until its next regular session to draft a new compromise bill.
The North Carolina Highway Patrol also expressed concerns about safety issues stemming from the new law, which allows boats up to 9.5 feet wide to be hauled at any time without a permit and allows the towing of boats up to 10 feet wide during daylight hours.
Williams briefly spoke about his bill before calling for a vote in the House.
He reiterated that in committee and on the floors of both houses, the bill had received a total of 449 “yes” votes and only 21 “no” votes.
In the Senate, the bill passed without much discussion.
But as Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight was about to call the vote, Sen. Ed Jones, a Democrat who represents Chowan County, rose to speak against it.
Jones said he believes his vote for the proposal when it first came before the Senate was a mistake. He asked if the General Assembly would have reconvened to consider a bill allowing wider trailers other purposes, such as hauling watermelons or trash.
He also voiced safety concerns.
Opponents of the bill have said it should mirror those in other nearby states, which are more restrictive, and create standards for alcohol consumption similar to those driving commercial vehicles.
Before calling for the vote in the Senate, Basnight responded, saying he supported the bill because it would help the economy without endangering North Carolinians.
The bill’s supporters had argued that boaters long had hauled craft as wide as those the new law allows, but that an increase in enforcement brought the issue to the fore. They argued that not changing the law could hurt an already slumping boat industry, throwing residents out of work.
Eastern North Carolina is home to several major boat companies, including Fountain Powerboats in Beaufort County, which recently acquired the Baja line, once a chief competitor.
Eventually, the Washington, D.C.-based National Marine Manufacturers Association got involved, hiring lobbyists Joe McClees and Henri McClees.
Joe McClees, who is based in Oriental, represented Beaufort County and 11 other eastern counties in their fight against proposed new stormwater rules. He was also named the 55th-most-influential lobbyist in Raleigh earlier this week by the nonpartisan North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research.
The boat manufacturers argued that allowing larger boats to be towed on state roads will boost boat sales.
Widths over 8.5 feet have long been common on boats as short as 20 feet, said David Dickerson, the NMMA’s director of state government relations.
One agency that had argued for changes to the bill was the N.C. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, the division of the executive branch that includes the Highway Patrol.
The best way to mitigate any potential dangers posed by the new law will be effective enforcement, he said.
He advised drivers hauling large boats to go slowly and expect to need long distances to stop.
Drivers approaching large boats being towed should anticipate that the boats may cross the centerline of the road, he said.
But for now, his department’s finished lobbying on the issue and is moving on to making sure the law is followed, Beatty said.
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