Senate President Rick Halford says there won't be a cruise ship bill passed out of a special session of the Legislature unless Gov. Tony Knowles changes his mind about the May 21 date.
Halford, in a news conference Wednesday with fellow Republican Sen. John Cowdery, said Knowles was "inhumane" in scheduling the session when he knew Cowdery would be absent due to his wife's upcoming heart surgery.
In an e-mail message today that Cowdery's staff said went out to 2,500 prominent Alaskans, Cowdery said: "I fail to see the urgency of this issue. The governor's action in calling for a special session is mean-spirited, uncompassionate and wrong."
But a spokesman for the governor noted Cowdery, a veteran legislator from Anchorage who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, failed to act on pollution-control legislation unveiled by Knowles two months before the end of the regular session.
"We're put into this unfortunate circumstance because the Legislature steadfastly refused to give the governor's bill a hearing," said spokesman Bob King. "This could have been avoided."
Many of the provisions Knowles was seeking were later incorporated into a House measure sponsored by Reps. Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican, and Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat. That passed the House 35-3 on May 1, but was set aside by Cowdery's Senate committee Sunday.
Halford, who generally favors the bill, said the Senate had been waiting on the House, because it was the House last year that killed a measure the Senate passed for a $50 head tax and pollution reporting requirements.
Despite his agreement with Knowles on the issue, Halford said the governor was wrong to schedule the special session when a key adversary would not be present. "This is a process that draws the Senate around its members, and says 'We will not deal with that kind of issue in that kind of way with this kind of timing.' "
King acknowledged that the governor's office was aware of Cowdery's conflict.
"We sympathize with his need to be with his wife while she's having surgery," he said. "But state government does not grind to a halt because of this."
The date was chosen because it's the earliest time that fits into the governor's existing schedule, King said. Knowles is in New York for his daughter's graduation from college and will attend an oil and gas commission meeting in Anchorage next week, he said.
The governor didn't want to wait until June because the cruise ship season already is under way, King said. "I don't think he has any inclination to change the date."
The scheduling controversy compounded an adjournment brouhaha just after midnight Wednesday in which Republicans complained about Knowles holding his news conference simultaneously with theirs, allegedly a breach of tradition. Reporters who attempted to attend both were barred from the office of House Speaker Brian Porter, an Anchorage Republican, and were chastised later by legislators and staff.
King said Knowles had actual news the proclamation calling the special session rather than just the post-session commentary offered by Republicans. He called their complaint "pretty petty."
Now the question is whether legislators will do anything May 21.
"I do not believe there will be a product," Halford said.
"We'll respond to that, should that happen," King said. "I think it'll look bad. I don't think the public will respond too well."
Halford suggested there could be some progress in a special session at another time.
"Even if a committee chairman strongly opposes a bill during a special session, working your way along, it doesn't mean that you roll the chairman," Halford said. "But you work with the chairman and you eventually reach some kind of accommodation."
Cowdery says the bill is unnecessary because the North West CruiseShip Association has agreed to sign a binding contract to abide by its provisions. Halford said that would be an acceptable interim step.
The association's draft of a proposed "Interim Coastal Protection Compact," being circulated late this morning, appears largely to reproduce the bill stuck in Cowdery's committee, except it omits penalties for noncompliance.
Knowles has said he won't accept anything less than a law.