Sudden compromise on cruise ship bill pays off

Posted: Wednesday, May 02, 2001

Confused by the latest legislative attempts to regulate the cruise industry in Alaska waters? The issue last week became entangled in competing bills offered by members of different political parties. The proposed measures either went too far or not far enough, or were not a hairbreadth's different or miles apart, depending on the source of the comments.

At times, members of the same party operating in different houses of the Legislature even seemed to disagree about what needed to be done and whose bills would accomplish the goals.

Perhaps all that needs to be said at this point is that if Rep. Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican, is praising Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat, and if Juneau Republican Rep. Bill Hudson and Anchorage Democratic Rep. Ethan Berkowitz are singing positive tunes off the same page, there must have been a breakthrough that offers some hope for fair, regulatory measures that protect the environment without trashing the industry.

Is "historic compromise" too strong? Probably not. Is it premature to be so optimistic? We hope not.

To recap, within the Legislature, the issue was more the House's than the Senate's and more Kerttula's than anyone else's. But creating state regulations to complement recently enacted federal laws also was part of Gov. Tony Knowles' "must-have" legislative package.

It was becoming increasingly apparent that the GOP-controlled Legislature would do what it wanted without worrying very much about the governor's must-have list.

Things appeared headed toward a cruise-ship train wreck when Mulder intervened in the House by introducing a bill that either A) was too friendly to the cruise industry or B) really wasn't very different from Kerttula's slow-moving proposal but which, after all, was not her bill. Sparks flew. Then, everyone negotiated for as long as it took.

Today, everyone from the governor to Kerttula to Mulder to the cruise industry should claim all the credit required to make them feel comfortable, triumphant even statesmanlike.

It's good to know that people approaching an important issue from different points of view can be reasonable. In the future, we hope they won't wait until the 11th hour, although that's how things usually work in the Legislature.

It's good to know as well that, pending Senate cooperation, the value of Alaska's air and waters and all the creatures dwelling therein have been acknowledged and that the acknowledgment will be formal, specific and binding, not merely the next set of verbal assurances to be put at risk by conflicting interpretations.

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