Gov. Easley rejects plan to ease boat towing rules
By Whitney Woodward
Gov. Mike Easley made good on a lingering veto threat Sunday when he rejected a bill which would have eased boat towing restrictions for North Carolina motorists.
"I sincerely believe that this bill puts families at a risk on the highways and would result in death or serious injury," Easley said in a statement announcing the action.
The rejected legislation would have allowed drivers to pull boats up to 10 feet wide on any day of the week without first obtaining a special permit. Motorists also would have been allowed to tow watercraft up to 9 1/2 feet wide at night.
Current state law allows boats up to 8 1/2 feet wide to be towed only during daylight hours on weekdays.
In pushing for the legislation this summer, lawmakers had said the current law jeopardized North Carolina's ability to host competitive fishing tournaments and severely limited North Carolina boaters' ability to take weekend trips.
The governor had until midnight on Sunday to veto or sign into law legislation that lawmakers had approved before adjourning July 18. If Easley did not take action on the bills - including the boat towing measure - they would have become law.
The veto should come as no surprise to lawmakers.
In July, top Easley aide Franklin Freeman told House and Senate lawmakers that the governor thought the measure was unsafe.
Easley echoed that Sunday, saying North Carolina has 60,000 miles of two-lane roads which are too narrow to accommodate 9 1/2 foot-wide boats safely. That means those watercraft would run over the center line and into oncoming traffic, he said.
"Further, if two 9-1/2 foot boats were to meet on an 18-foot strip of road or bridge it would be physically impossible to escape a collision," Easley said in his statement.
The bill now returns to the General Assembly, where legislative leaders will decide whether to accept Easley's veto or try to override it. Easley urged lawmakers to wait until next year to revise the law so there is ample time to study the consequences of the legislation.
To revive the measure, three-fifths of the House and Senate members present in each chamber would need to vote for the measure.
The Senate passed the bill unanimously. The House approved it 108-5.
A spokesman for House Speaker Joe Hackney said Sunday evening that legislative leaders have yet to decide whether they will try to override the veto.
Bill sponsor Rep. Arthur Williams, D-Beaufort, said he's confident there are enough supporters to override the veto, should the General Assembly come back to Raleigh.
Williams challenged Easley's claims that the measure is unsafe, saying that the wider boats would be resting on the same sized trailers and that an extra five or six inches on each side would not jeopardize motorists' safety.
"They've been running those boats up and down the highways of North Carolina since 1982," Williams said. "They haven't had a lot of accidents."
The General Assembly has never overridden a veto in the 11 years since it granted North Carolina governors the power to reject legislation.
Easley, now nearing the end of his second four-year term, is the only governor to use the authority.