JUNEAU (AP) -- A watered-down version of a bill designed to bring cruise ships and other large vessels under the state's oil spill response system was signed into law Wednesday.
Gov. Tony Knowles also signed 16 other bills on topics ranging from the Alaska Permanent Fund to loans for fishermen in federal tax trouble.
Senate Bill 273, sponsored by Senate President Drue Pearce, will require owners of cruise ships, freighters, large fishing vessels, large ferries and the Alaska Railroad to prove by Sept. 1 that they have the financial ability to respond to oil spills.
''Alaska has arguably the world's best spill prevention and response program, but only for vessels that carry oil as cargo,'' Knowles said. ''That safety net does not exist for any other oil carrier, or the Alaska Railroad, regardless of the volumes they may carry and the fact they travel in some of the most pristine and resource-rich areas of the state.''
However, the bill does not require oil spill contingency plans required for tankers. Instead, a task force will study the cost of such plans and report back to the Legislature next year.
SB 273 originally called for such plans, but was changed in the House after Rep. Ramona Barnes, R-Anchorage, bottled the measure up in her committee. Barnes said she was concerned about driving up the cost of shipping Alaska's fish, timber and minerals to markets around the world.
Pearce, R-Anchorage, accused Barnes of gutting the bill on behalf of cruise ship industry lobbyists. Pearce, who voted against the House version of her bill, was out of the country Wednesday and unavailable for comment.
However, John Hansen, president of the North West CruiseShip Association said the industry is taking the task force on contingency plans seriously.
''It hasn't been eliminated from the bill, it's still very much there,'' Hansen said of the contingency planning requirement.
Hansen said the cruise lines have already reached a deal with SEAPRO, a nonprofit spill response cooperative, for spill coverage in Southeast Alaska. The deal calls for the lines to contribute eight new spill response barges that can be used for any spill in the region.
Knowles signed 16 other bills Wednesday, including:
--House Bill 18, by Barnes, which deposits $250 million of the Permanent Fund's earnings into the fund's principal. The principal cannot be spent without amending the state constitution. Barnes, said she introduced the bill to win back the public's trust after last year's lopsided vote against the Legislature's plan to use some of the fund's earnings to balance the budget. The deposit will have no effect on the size of the fund's annual dividend.
--House Bill 253, by Rep. Fred Dyson, requiring school districts to adopt written community-based standards for student behavior that address school discipline and safety. Dyson, R-Eagle River, introduced the bill out of concern that teachers were being fired or otherwise punished for disciplining unruly students. The bill would protect teachers and aides who discipline students under approved standards.
--House Bill 238, by Rep. Mary Kapsner, D-Bethel, setting up a loan program for commercial fishermen with federal tax debts big enough to jeopardize their limited entry permits. The program will be limited to residents, and a fisherman can only take out one such loan during his lifetime.
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