ATLANTA - Gov. Roy Barnes vetoed legislation Friday that would have guaranteed farmers representation on the Georgia Board of Natural Resources.
The governor cited constitutional concerns about any effort to put such restrictions on the 16-member board's makeup.
Georgia's Constitution requires the governor to appoint one board member from each of the state's 11 congressional districts, while one of the at-large members must be from the coastal region.
The bill, which passed both the House and Senate with solid majorities, for the first time would have put a requirement beyond residency on board membership. In his veto message, Mr. Barnes said the measure in effect would have reduced from four to three the number of at-large seats on the board.
"Limiting one seat in such a manner sets a precedent for going beyond the terms of the Constitution to specify occupational requirements," the governor wrote. "Such requirements would render it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for the governor to discharge the constitutional responsibility."
Supporters pushed the bill as a way to assure farmers a say over Department of Natural Resources policies governing agricultural practices.
"Agriculture is one of the biggest parts of natural resources," said Rep. Robert Ray, D-Fort Valley, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and a co-sponsor of the legislation. "(But) so many times, the people making the rules and regulations aren't familiar with what agriculture is."
As introduced by Mr. Ray and others, the bill also would have required a DNR board seat to go to a representative of the agricultural community, either a distributor, handler, processor or retailer of farm products.
But as it made its way through the General Assembly, lawmakers removed the second farm-related seat, while adding provisions asking the governor to consider appointing a forester or forest landowner and a physician with experience in environmental-health issues.
Environmental advocates lobbied heavily against the bill before its passage and then urged Mr. Barnes to veto it.
Sam Collier, executive director of Georgia Conservation Voters, objected to the bill's "cherry-picking" approach to filling the DNR board.
"We didn't think any interest should get a preferential treatment by law," he said. "It ought to be up to the governor to strike a balance on the board."
Mr. Barnes also cited constitutional arguments last year in vetoing a bill championed by farm groups that would have allowed the General Assembly to override water-quality rules and regulations directly affecting certain crops and livestock.
Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424.
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