Prospects for cruise ship legislation remain uncertain after the unveiling of a citizen initiative to impose a $75 head tax on the industry.
But while the revenue-raising sections of the proposed initiative are far greater than what is contemplated in the Legislature, the move for a statewide vote is sure to give more emphasis to the issue.
"Traditionally, the initiatives have made the Legislature focus down on things better," said Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat, who has a bill to require pollution reports from cruise ships. "It'll have some impacts just because it's out there."
Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles has proposed a $1 per passenger fee that the industry would pay to finance state monitoring efforts. Knowles' bill also contemplates new regulations on wastewater discharges and air emissions.
Bob King, press secretary for Knowles, said the reaction to the governor's bill hasn't been auspicious.
"The response has been disappointingly mild, with the fact that they gave the governor's bill four committee referrals in the House the most of any bill this year," King said. "That's typically taken as a sign that the Legislature doesn't want to take this issue up."
But it remains "must-have" legislation for Knowles, he said.
Vic Kohring, a Wasilla Republican who chairs the House Transportation Committee, is openly ambivalent about whether to hold a hearing on the governor's bill and, if so, whether to allow it to come to a vote.
Kohring said he needs to get more information on the wastewater tests last year that showed almost uniform flouting of federal and state discharge standards. "That, frankly, angers me," he said.
But he also noted that he's a pro-industry fiscal conservative who prefers to roll back regulations, rather than pass new ones. The cruise industry has brought a lot of money to the state, he said.
Kohring said he thinks there is support in his committee to pass the governor's bill. As someone who's probably going to oppose it, he therefore has a "dilemma" about whether to stymie majority rule, he said. "I would probably try to stop the bill in the committee."
In the Senate, Transportation Chairman John Cowdery, an Anchorage Republican, said he wants to see if the Knowles bill is really necessary on top of federal legislation passed in December. But Cowdery said he will have a hearing and doesn't rule out the bill's passage.
Paul Queary of the Associated Press got a big sendoff from the Capitol as he finished his three-year Alaska stint Monday and moved on to his new position as bureau chief in Olympia, Wash.
Proclamations were offered in both the House and Senate. House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, noting that Queary covered the Oklahoma City bombing and is now headed for a capitol where the dome was cracked by an earthquake, quipped: "He seems to be associated with disasters."
Queary, 35, was known not only for razor sharp writing and reporting, but also for an inventive sense of humor. Recently, as a committee hearing droned on, he suggested to me that the media ought to be able to invoke cloture and cut off debate "when we've got enough quotes."
For those wondering about the rumors that Knowles has his eye on the U.S. Senate, there was this moment Wednesday:
Introducing Knowles at a rally on breast cancer legislation, Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer referred to the governor as "Sen. Knowles." The audience, which included a generous complement of Democratic legislators and staff, clapped and cheered enthusiastically. Knowles looked pretty pleased himself.
"If anyone can tell me what good comes from drinking between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., I'm all ears." - Rep. Scott Ogan, Palmer Republican, offering a bill on bar closing times
"I didn't know what it was like to be a member of a minority until I became a Democrat." - Rep. Al Kookesh, on growing up in the Native-dominated population of Angoon
"The recommendation of the task force is to spend more money on a flawed system." - Sen. Jerry Ward, Anchorage Republican, on the governor's education task force that calls for $42 million in additional K-12 spending
Bill McAllister can be reached at email@example.com.
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