Cruise bill sets up Capitol showdown

Capitol Notebook

Posted: Sunday, April 29, 2001

You can say this for the cruise industry: They got the alcohol lobbyists off the front burner.

In an abrupt turn of events, the industry, in the course of just eight days, endorsed one bill for pollution regulation and reporting, and then dumped it when a weaker version emerged.

Remarkably, while the new bill's author, Anchorage Rep. Eldon Mulder, said he was rejecting the "extreme environmentalism" of the original measure by Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula, industry spokesman John Hansen testified that Mulder's version offered "better protection" for the environment. As with many things this week, that went unexplained.

Meanwhile, Hansen & Co. have maintained a Guinness Book-worthy silence on the strongest bill of all, unveiled by Gov. Tony Knowles March 9, refusing to comment publicly on its content or on the governor's assertion that they promised back in November to support it. On Thursday, Knowles stopped about a millimeter short of calling them liars.

For the moment, the cruise industry might be the most vilified part of the private sector in Alaska. What's not clear is if they recognize that.

Asked how he thought things were going for the foreign-flagged companies, Hansen said only that he hopes for a positive outcome by adjournment.

In a week full of striking quotes, Senate President Rick Halford of Anchorage might have uttered the top of the line, saying of the industry: "Their political effluent is no cleaner than their waste."

Kerttula, normally a temperate orator, warned the House Finance Committee Friday that she was going to be blunter than usual. She didn't disappoint: "This bill is a sham, and it should be jettisoned overboard."

Of course, Mulder is right when he says his bill would establish the first state regulation for cruise ships in the United States, even though it's less comprehensive than what Knowles and Kerttula propose. And a year ago, Mulder's bill would have been considered almost radical.

But when he says that there's a "presumption of guilt" in Kerttula's bill and a "presumption of innocence" in his, you have to wonder if he reads the newspapers. Royal Caribbean pleaded guilty to felonies in 1999. And with last summer's testing of marine discharges, we now know that every cruise line coming to Alaska has been dumping the equivalent of raw sewage into the world's most pristine waters. Those are facts.

As usual, the subject of cruise ships turns Alaskans against each other.

House Finance Co-Chairman Bill Williams of Saxman was repeatedly curt with environmentalists who wanted to read written statements by friends who had left after waiting for five or more hours to testify.

The intervention by Mulder, the Republican co-chairman of the committee, immediately made the issue partisan in the House, as Kerttula and Knowles are Democrats. But there is a House-Senate split, as well. Leading Republican senators, including Halford, say they're willing to accept Kerttula's and Knowles' basic approach and slap a $50 head tax on the industry, to boot. Asked why House Republicans were viewing the issue so differently, Halford said the explanation is "sad" but didn't elaborate.

Some Democrats think the answer is that Mulder's wife, Wendy, works for Joe Hayes, the $1-million-a-year lobbyist who represents the North West CruiseShip Association. Mulder has denied being influenced by that. But his power to rally his caucus behind him is widely acknowledged. Democrat Rep. Sharon Cissna of Anchorage dubbed Mulder "Mr. God."

In announcing a joint Democrat caucus, press aides wrote in their news release: "All Alaskans are invited to attend." So don't believe it when Palmer Rep. Scott Ogan talks about cramped quarters at the Capitol.

Quote marks:

"Actually, the police have been to my house more than 10 times, but it was social." - House Speaker Brian Porter, former police chief in Anchorage, during consideration of a bill regarding nuisance residences

"That doesn't happen in Iowa." - Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, commenting on a simultaneous translation of her speech in Bethel into Yup'ik

"Where would we be as a state if Congress took that attitude toward Alaska?" - Ulmer, talking about a Senate Republican plan to cut off state aid to the North Slope Borough School District because it has a large property-tax base

Bill McAllister can be reached at billm@juneauempire.com.



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