The Marine Transportation Advisory Board will for the first time become part of state law, under a bill approved Thursday by the powerful Senate Finance Committee.
Bill sponsor Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, said she was "extremely pleased" to have the bill on the way to success. Still, the bill is a much reduced version of what she and several ferry-dependent legislators had earlier proposed.
"We're taking baby steps," to getting the Alaska Marine Highway System on stable footing, she said.
The bill began as a bill to create a "ferry authority," modeled after the Alaska Railroad Corp. Wilson said that idea might still have merit, but had too much opposition to accomplish now.
"It's a good start," agreed Rep. Andrea Doll, D-Juneau, who joined with other Juneau legislators in supporting the bill.
The bill would convert the current nine-member Marine Transportation Advisory Board from a body created each year by executive order to a board created in state law.
Current MTAB Chairwoman Cathie Roemmich of Juneau said the board actually passed out of existence earlier this year when an executive order renewing the bill wasn't issued in time.
"At least now we're in statute," Wilson said.
The new board would also be expanded to 11 members, including two members from communities not served by ferries. The other members are allocated regionally.
The legislation requires the commissioner of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to consult with the board when appointing a new deputy commissioner to oversee marine transportation.
Wilson said she wanted stronger language to create a ferry chief that would be insulated from political pressure, but under Alaska's Constitution, appointment power resides with the governor.
The bill has already been passed by the House of Representatives overwhelmingly, and with the endorsement Thursday of the Senate Finance Committee, all it needs is approval from the full Senate.
Contact reporterPat Forgey at 586-4816 or firstname.lastname@example.org.