ATLANTA -- Arguing constitutional grounds, Gov. Roy Barnes on Friday vetoed a bill passed by the General Assembly last month that would have taken away the state Environmental Protection Division's ability to regulate water quality.
The measure, championed by farmers' advocates inside and outside the Legislature, was intended to create a 12-member committee to advise the EPD on how proposed environmental regulations could affect agriculture. At least four of the members were to be farmers actively engaged in the business.
But the bill also would have given lawmakers the power to override water-quality rules and regulations promulgated by the EPD if they would directly affect crops, dairy or beef cattle, poultry or hogs.
In his veto message, Mr. Barnes cited a provision in the bill that he said would have allowed the General Assembly, with a two-thirds majority vote, to pass legislation that would not have been subject to gubernatorial veto.
"Our state's constitution clearly provides that all bills and resolutions, other than proposed constitutional amendments ... shall be transmitted to the governor for approval or veto," he wrote.
"You're supposed to have three branches of government," added Mark Woodall, a lobbyist for the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club, which worked against the bill during the legislative session. "This is the legislative branch usurping the executive."
Advocates on both sides of the issue agreed that the bill was prompted by stricter regulations of the hog industry approved last year by the state Board of Natural Resources. Environmental groups, worried that it could hamper the board's anticipated attempt this year to tighten rules governing poultry farming, urged Mr. Barnes to veto the measure.
To address the agriculture industry's push for more say in state government, Mr. Barnes said in his veto message that he plans to appoint more farmers to the state's Environmental Advisory Council. He also suggested that lawmakers should stick to the normal legislative process if they want to impose their will on environmental regulations.
"A bill may be proposed which removes or changes the authority underlying the regulation," he wrote. "If that bill is vetoed, the legislature is free to override. But the General Assembly should not upset the checks and balances of our state constitution by attempting to avoid the governor's constitutional role in approval or veto of legislation."