Speeding measure revived, approved

Bill will make cutting deals tougher

Staff WriterAugust 3, 2007 

On Thursday morning, a bill to slow down North Carolina drivers was dead. By Thursday evening, it was headed for the governor's signature.

In an unusual turnaround, the state House resurrected the legislation, which will make it tougher for high-speed drivers to cut sweet deals with prosecutors and judges. The 63-48 vote came after Democrats united to turn around the bill's defeat Wednesday.

Late Thursday night, the House and Senate unanimously passed a compromise that eliminated one feature of the bill -- limiting drivers to two pleas to "improper equipment" in five years.

The legislation originated in the Senate in May, just a couple of days after The News & Observer series "Speed Unlimited" reported that some district attorneys allowed speeders to plead repeatedly to improper equipment, in effect claiming a broken speedometer. The maneuver saves their license and prevents their insurance company from levying a surcharge. The newspaper discovered one man who had 19 charges reduced to improper equipment. About 30 percent of all speeding charges are reduced to improper equipment.

The series also showed that judges had given free passes, known as prayers for judgment continued, or PJCs, to drivers charged at 100 mph and above.

The N&O was a topic of discussion during the House's 30-minute debate.

Rep. Rick Glazier, a Democrat from Fayetteville who was the bill's floor manager, held up a Thursday copy of The N&O with the headline, "Speeding bill fails in House vote" and cited a couple of lines from the story, including one that said chronic speeders are nearly four times as likely to be in a wreck as randomly selected drivers.

After the House's vote, Senate and House negotiators met to work out their differences. The compromise eliminated one section about improper equipment pleas, but kept other key provisions. The bill would:

* Prohibit PJCs or improper equipment pleas for drivers ticketed at more than 25 mph above the speed limit.

* Require the state Division of Motor Vehicles to record improper equipment pleas on drivers' records, so prosecutors can know when a speeder has been allowed several.

Rep. Tim Moore, a Shelby Republican who had opposed the bill on Wednesday, said recording improper equipment violations would make prosecutors stop handing them out to one driver.

Sen. Tony Rand of Fayetteville, who pushed the bill through the Senate, said removing the provision that would have limited the number of improper equipment charges a driver can accumulate was necessary to get the House's approval.

The action Thursday capped an unusual 24 hours in the life of legislation. The speeding bill had passed one House vote Tuesday, but an unlikely coalition rejected the bill on Wednesday, according to Paul "Skip" Stam of Apex, the minority leader.

"One group thought it was too tough and one group thought it was too lenient," Stam said of the Republicans who opposed the bill.

When the bill was first considered in the House on Tuesday, 29 Republicans voted against it. Overnight, they added another 13 Republican votes. Stam said there was "no concerted effort" by the Republican caucus to defeat the bill, but there was a lot of talk. Eighteen Democrats also voted no on Wednesday.

After the bill was defeated, Democrats met during a break in the session and Speaker Joe Hackney said he wanted the bill reconsidered. The Democrats, who hold a majority, pushed the bill through.

John M. Blust, a Republican from Greensboro, saw things differently. He said he had considered voting against the bill -- because it was too soft. But he reminded legislators of the speeding cars they encounter on the interstates when they come to Raleigh.

"I am convinced that the citizens of our state want us to do something about it," he said.

The bill would apply to offenses committed after Dec. 1.

Staff writer Pat Stith can be reached at 829-4537 or pat.stith@newsobserver.com.

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