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Negotiations on possible cruise ship legislation have entered an intense phase behind closed doors.
The state House Transportation Committee didn't hold a public hearing Tuesday on a bill by Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles, as Chairman Vic Kohring once said it would. Kohring, a Wasilla Republican, didn't give a specific reason but said he was aware of new legislation being drafted.
Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat with separate legislation that was passed by Kohring's committee, met for a second straight day Tuesday with industry representatives and Environmental Conservation Commissioner Michele Brown.
Meanwhile, rumors that House Finance Co-Chairman Eldon Mulder would enter the fray this morning with a bill favorable to the industry failed to materialize. "Not today" was all the Anchorage Republican would say as he walked onto the House floor.
Kerttula reported "huge" progress in negotiations with the industry.
"I think they're unhappy with the publicity," she said.
Kerttula's bill, endorsed by the industry last week, would put in place a marine discharge standard for cruise ship graywater by 2003 and would require regular testing of wastewater, with reports to the state. Knowles would go further by setting up a state permit for cruise ships, regulating air emissions and solid waste in addition to water, and imposing a $1-per-passenger fee to pay for the state oversight.
The industry wants to avoid a permit, which could be revoked for repeat violators, essentially banning them from state waters. And there are fears of a $50 passenger head tax being added in the Senate, which happened last year with a similar bill by Kerttula. That bill failed in the House at the end of the 2000 session.
Al Parrish of Holland America, one of the industry representatives who has been talking to Kerttula and Brown, wouldn't discuss details but said today cruise executives have agreed to "certain principles" in both the Kerttula and Knowles bills.
Asked if the industry still supports the Kerttula bill, Parrish said: "I don't know what's happening in the (House) Finance Committee. I'll just have to wait and see if that particular piece of legislation is any different than what Kerttula's is."
Kerttula said that despite her productive talks with industry representatives, she would not look kindly on a bill from Mulder.
"If there's something that just pops in out of nowhere, that neither the governor or I have had an opportunity to review, things could take a step backward," she said.
As of this morning, Kerttula and gubernatorial spokesman Bob King said they had not seen any draft legislation from Mulder.
Parrish said the North West CruiseShip Association didn't take the initiative on that legislation. "At this juncture, we're just answering questions. ... It's not an industry bill," he said.
Knowles has vowed there will be a vote on his bill this year, implicitly a threat to call a special session of the Legislature if necessary. His spokesman, King, has described Kerttula's bill as a step in the right direction but not adequate by itself.
"The governor has met with industry," King said today. "And he's still holding the industry to their commitment to support a program for monitoring and enforcement of discharge standards, and providing a funding mechanism to pay for it."
Bill McAllister can be reached at email@example.com.