Cruise legislation passes Senate

Posted: Sunday, June 10, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A cruise ship pollution bill passed the Senate Friday night, but a $10 head tax did not.

Senate President Rick Halford and Sen. Randy Phillips, R-Eagle River, tried to amend House Bill 260 to add the $10 tax on passengers, but the amendment failed 9-10.

''I don't think these companies come anywhere near paying their share for what they get,'' said Halford, R-Chugiak.

Unlike hotels on land, the ships don't pay corporate income or bed taxes in Alaska, and they ''blackmail'' communities that consider imposing additional taxes by threatening not to sail there, Halford said.

Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, however, argued that the industry pays port fees and customers pay sales taxes, and if they take bus tours to Interior destinations, they pay fuel taxes and bed taxes.

But Phillips argued they pay nowhere near what they should be, and the $7 million that would be raised by the tax is not too much to ask.

Those voting for the head tax amendment were Republicans Halford, Phillips, Loren Leman of Anchorage and Drue Pearce of Anchorage, and Democrats Johnny Ellis of Anchorage, Kim Elton of Juneau, Lyman Hoffman of Bethel, Georgianna Lincoln of Rampart and Donny Olson of Nome.

The Senate passed the bill itself 16-3, with Sens. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, John Cowdery, R-Anchorage and Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks voting against it.

As currently written, House Bill 260 would allow the state to limit the ships' wastewater and air emissions and would provide the state with information on those discharges and on solid waste handling on the ships. It would charge a fee of about $1 per passenger to run the program.

Gov. Tony Knowles called legislators back to Juneau for a special session on the legislation because the bill stalled in the Senate after passing the House during the regular session that ended last month.

Kelly questioned the need for the bill, saying it is being pushed by Knowles, a Democrat, solely for political reasons. He said a new federal cruise ship pollution law, backed by U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, took care of any problems with cruise ship pollution.

''We're here because Senator Murkowski cleaned up the cruise ship problem and Governor Knowles didn't get credit for it, so we came back here so he could get credit for it,'' Kelly said during a Finance Committee hearing on the measure.

The Knowles administration has said the federal law left gaps the state needed to fill because it didn't cover air or solid waste, didn't set a cleanup standard for gray water -- the water from sinks, showers and laundry -- and didn't require monitoring of some possible pollutants of concern in the wastewater.

''The federal action clearly does not go far enough and this bill is intended to complement that,'' Knowles' spokesman Bob King said.

Small ships carrying fewer than 250 passengers, including state ferries, are exempt from some requirements of the current version of House Bill 260.

The smaller vessels would still have to comply with requirements that they sample their wastewater and file reports on it. But they wouldn't have to clean the wastewater to the same standard required of the bigger ships because the technology the larger ships use is not yet available for smaller vessels.

The bill now must go to the House for concurrence with Senate changes. By 11 p.m. Friday the House had not considered the bill.

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