Legislature(2021 - 2022)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)

02/18/2021 01:30 PM Senate TRANSPORTATION

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Audio Topic
01:36:15 PM Start
01:36:53 PM Overview: Statewide Aviation & International Airports
02:18:12 PM SJR9
03:03:00 PM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
"Statewide Aviation & International Airports"
by Deputy Commissioner John Binder
Moved SJR 9 Out of Committee
-- Invited & Public Testimony --
**Streamed live on AKL.tv**
             SJR 9-URGE EXEMPTION FOR CRUISE SHIPS                                                                          
2:18:12 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR MYERS announced  that the final order of  business would be                                                               
SENATE JOINT RESOLUTION  NO. 9 Urging the  United States Congress                                                               
to exempt cruise  ships from certain provisions  of the Passenger                                                               
Vessel Services  Act and other  applicable provisions  of federal                                                               
law  for the  period during  which Canadian  ports are  closed to                                                               
cruise  ships  carrying more  than  100  people; and  urging  the                                                               
President  of the  United  States  not to  fine  or take  actions                                                               
against cruise ships sailing to the state.                                                                                      
2:18:42 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR KIEHL,  speaking as  sponsor, said  the pandemic  has hit                                                               
Alaska hard  economically. He expressed  concern that  the cruise                                                               
industry may not come to Alaska  this summer. In 2019, about 2.25                                                               
million  visitors came  to  Alaska. Of  those,  1.2 million  were                                                               
passengers  on  cruise  ships.  The  tourism  sector  brought  $4                                                               
billion in economic activity in  Alaska. He directed attention to                                                               
language  in   the  resolution  that  highlights   this  economic                                                               
activity. In  2020, the  tourism figures  dropped close  to zero.                                                               
While some businesses closed, others  have held on due to federal                                                               
help from  the CARES Act  [Coronavirus Aid, Relief,  and Economic                                                               
Security Act].  Seasonal employees were  not hired last  year and                                                               
were relying  on pandemic  unemployment assistance.  He cautioned                                                               
that these businesses  would not survive without  a cruise season                                                               
this year.                                                                                                                      
SJR 9  asks Alaska's Congressional  Delegation and  the executive                                                               
branch  of  the federal  government  to  take  steps to  make  it                                                               
possible for  Alaska to have a  cruise ship season this  year. He                                                               
noted  that  he  worked  with  members  of  the  delegation  when                                                               
drafting  the resolution  who suggested  the  language should  be                                                               
broad enough to allow it the flexibility to address this issue.                                                                 
SENATOR KIEHL  said this resolution  is not a call  for permanent                                                               
changes  to  federal  laws,  lasting  changes  in  federal  rules                                                               
designed to protect American steel  or shipbuilding jobs or allow                                                               
for unlimited cruise ship passengers  in the future. Instead, SJR
9 requests  a waiver limited to  the 2021 cruise ship  season, he                                                               
2:25:21 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR SHOWER said he appreciates  SJR 9 and supports efforts to                                                               
get Alaska's businesses operational.  Many businesses were caught                                                               
off guard by the pandemic, could  not manage, and closed. He said                                                               
his  interest stems  from  the  fact that  his  district has  two                                                               
ports.  He  expressed  concern that  fear  mongering  related  to                                                               
COVID-19 caused people  not to book cruise  ship travel. Further,                                                               
the  state highlighted  COVID-19  issues to  the  extent that  it                                                               
added  to  people's  concern  about   travel.  In  addition,  the                                                               
administration  put  some development  projects  on  hold to  the                                                               
extent that  the state might  struggle economically.  Many cruise                                                               
passengers fall into the vulnerable  COVID-19 category. Since the                                                               
CDC can protect  passengers, the cruise industry  could have been                                                               
operating.  Instead,  the  cruise  ship industry  was  shut  down                                                               
nationally and in Canada. He  offered his view that people needed                                                               
to let go of fear to allow the state to open up.                                                                                
2:29:17 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR KIEHL  offered his  view that  many passengers  will feel                                                               
safe due to protocols in place  on cruise ships. In addition, two                                                               
vaccines are being  offered and more are in  the planning stages,                                                               
he said.                                                                                                                        
2:30:25 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR MYERS opened public testimony on SJR 9.                                                                                   
2:31:17 PM                                                                                                                    
PAULA TERREL, representing self,  Juneau, Alaska, stated that she                                                               
previously  served on  the Juneau  Visitor  Industry Task  Force,                                                               
which  dealt almost  exclusively with  the cruise  ship industry.                                                               
However, she is speaking on her  own behalf today, she said. This                                                               
resolution  supports  the  waiver  exemption  provisions  of  the                                                               
Passenger  Vessel  Services   Act,  specifically  from  requiring                                                               
foreign flagged vessels  to stop in a non-USA  port. Cruise ships                                                               
destined for  Alaska must  stop in Canada,  which has  closed its                                                               
ports  until 2022.  Although this  resolution  was the  sponsor's                                                               
attempt to help businesses that  have suffered economic hardships                                                               
from  last year  cruise  ship season  last year,  it  is not  the                                                               
solution. Under  the waiver, foreign  flagged cruise  ships could                                                               
travel  in international  waters  and  directly access  Southeast                                                               
Alaska. She was uncertain how  many large cruise ships would take                                                               
advantage of  this opportunity  since some  cruise lines  are not                                                               
foreign flagged,  such as Norwegian  Cruise Lines.  However, many                                                               
residents,  including  herself, desire  to  limit  the number  of                                                               
cruise ships and passengers visiting Southeast Alaska.                                                                          
MS. TERREL related  that foreign flagged vessels  are exempt from                                                               
certain   taxes  and   enjoy   other   financial  benefits.   She                                                               
acknowledged  that   strict  CDC  guidelines   would  potentially                                                               
minimize COVID-19 but  she was unsure how  safe communities would                                                               
be.  She  urged members  to  seek  options for  supporting  local                                                               
businesses other than this this waiver.                                                                                         
2:35:54 PM                                                                                                                    
KIMBERLY METCALFE,  representing self,  Juneau, Alaska,  spoke in                                                               
opposition to  SJR 9  because she has  concerns about  the issues                                                               
related  to   the  foreign-flagged  cruise  ship   industry.  She                                                               
specifically  spoke against  the waiver  exemption provisions  of                                                               
the Passenger  Vessel Services Act that  requires foreign-flagged                                                               
vessels to stop in a Canadian  or other non-USA port. Last month,                                                               
Transport Canada reported  that Canada decided to  extend the ban                                                               
on cruise ship travel until February 28, 2022, because:                                                                         
     Cruise vessels  in Canadian waters  pose a risk  to our                                                                    
     health  care systems.  The  government  of Canada  will                                                                    
     continue to evaluate the situation  and make changes as                                                                    
     necessary  to  ensure  the health  and  safety  of  all                                                                    
     Canadians.  Should the  COVID-19 pandemic  sufficiently                                                                    
     improve to  allow resumption  of these  activities, the                                                                    
     Minister of  Transport has the  ability to  rescind the                                                                    
     interim orders.                                                                                                            
MS  METCALFE  said  this  ban emphasizes  that  Canada  puts  its                                                               
citizens first.  COVID-19 provides  an opportunity for  SE Alaska                                                               
to explore  its relationship with the  cruise industry, including                                                               
effects on whales, crowding, and emergency services, she said.                                                                  
2:39:08 PM                                                                                                                    
RAY  PRESTON,   representing  self,  Juneau,  Alaska,   spoke  in                                                               
opposition to SJR 9 due to  COVID-19 risks highlighted by CDC. He                                                               
said SJR  9 ignored the  risk to  Alaskans by offering  a waiver,                                                               
yet Canada  issued the  ban to protect  its citizens.  He offered                                                               
his view  that this resolution  ignored the pandemic in  favor of                                                               
revenue  from  the  cruise  industry. It  also  ignored  the  CDC                                                               
[Centers  for  Disease  Control and  Prevention]  guidelines.  He                                                               
quoted from the CDC's website:                                                                                                  
     CDC recommends  that all people avoid  travel on cruise                                                                    
     ships,  including  river   cruises,  worldwide.  That's                                                                    
     because the chance of getting  COVID-19 on cruise ships                                                                    
     is high since  the virus appears to  spread more easily                                                                    
     between people  in close quarters  aboard ships.  It is                                                                    
     especially  important  that  people with  an  increased                                                                    
     risk of severe illness put  off travel on cruise ships,                                                                    
     including river cruises.                                                                                                   
MR.  PRESTON  concluded  by  stating  that  he  hoped  that  this                                                               
resolution would not pass.                                                                                                      
2:41:22 PM                                                                                                                    
KARLA HART,  representing self,  Juneau, Alaska,  highlighted her                                                               
concern  that the  cruise industry  has more  physical impact  in                                                               
Alaska but  SJR 9  does not recommend  any enforcement  or fines.                                                               
She related  that she operated  tourism businesses in  Juneau for                                                               
ten  years. The  cruise industry  has the  biggest voice  and the                                                               
most  visitors yet  it also  has the  greatest adverse  impact on                                                               
communities. She expressed  concern that SJR 9  lumped cruise and                                                               
other  visitors  together.  She said,  "Tourism  does  not  equal                                                               
cruise tourism. According to the  2016 Alaska Visitors Statistics                                                               
Program  (AVSP), visitors  spend $2  billion in  Alaska. However,                                                               
cruise passengers only account for  one-third of it. Further, SJR
9  urges  the  President  of   the  United  States  to  not  take                                                               
enforcement  actions against  cruise ships  sailing to  the state                                                               
while  the Canadian  ports are  closed to  the cruise  ships. She                                                               
surmised  that the  sponsor likely  intended  this resolution  to                                                               
refer to  the Passenger Vessel  Services Act  but it does  not do                                                               
so.  She urged  the committee  to amend  this language  since the                                                               
cruise industry has a long history of environmental violations.                                                                 
2:44:12 PM                                                                                                                    
SUSAN SCHRADER,  representing self, Juneau,  Alaska, acknowledged                                                               
that  local businesses  catering to  cruise ship  passengers were                                                               
severely hurt during  the pandemic as were  other businesses. She                                                               
commended the City  and Borough of Juneau (CBJ)  for its COVID-19                                                               
mitigation and  vaccination efforts. She referred  to the sponsor                                                               
statement  that   cited  the  CDC's  stringent   COVID-19  safety                                                               
protocols for  responsible cruising in American  waters. However,                                                               
she does not trust the  foreign-flagged cruise industry to follow                                                               
the protocols or any US law, she said.                                                                                          
MS.  SCHRADER suggested  that the  committee consider  the cruise                                                               
ships   as  huge   assisted-living  facilities   with  passengers                                                               
congregating in  bars, restaurants,  and night  clubs for  over a                                                               
week. She expressed concern that  passengers pose risks for local                                                               
residents,  ports  of  call,  and  their  home  communities.  She                                                               
offered her view that any  approval to stop in Alaska communities                                                               
should be  based on  the best science  available and  reflect the                                                               
will of the local residents. She  offered her view that SJR 9 was                                                               
badly misguided.                                                                                                                
2:47:19 PM                                                                                                                    
At ease                                                                                                                         
2:47:55 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR MYERS reconvened the meeting.                                                                                             
2:47:59 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  SHOWER  related  his   understanding  that  people  have                                                               
concerns about COVID-19. However,  testing standards can mitigate                                                               
the  effects  to  protect  citizens. He  offered  his  view  that                                                               
communities can  take precautions  to protect their  citizens yet                                                               
still  allow  cruise  ships. He  cautioned  people  that  federal                                                               
funding to communities will run  out. He solicited solutions from                                                               
testifiers that would  allow people to work and for  the state to                                                               
have  a viable  economy.  He  pointed out  that  Alaska has  been                                                               
devastated by job losses and closed businesses due to COVID-19.                                                                 
2:49:27 PM                                                                                                                    
RORIE  WATT, City  Manager,  City and  Borough  of Juneau  (CBJ),                                                               
Juneau, Alaska,  spoke in support  of SJR  9. He stated  that not                                                               
having ships  in port last  summer was devastating to  Juneau. He                                                               
stated that the city government,  local businesses, and neighbors                                                               
and friends were hurting. He pointed  out that this issue was not                                                               
limited  to Juneau.  The  lack  of the  cruise  ship industry  in                                                               
Alaska affects  Southeast Alaska  and Interior Alaska  since many                                                               
visitors  disembark  from  cruise  ships  and  travel  throughout                                                               
Alaska, he said.                                                                                                                
2:50:26 PM                                                                                                                    
KATIE  BOTZ,   representing  self,   Juneau,  Alaska,   said  she                                                               
respected  what Senator  Kiehl is  trying to  do by  keeping tour                                                               
businesses  open. She  characterized downtown  Juneau as  a ghost                                                               
town last  summer. She asked  the committee to  consider amending                                                               
the  resolution to  enforce stricter  CDC  guidelines to  protect                                                               
2:52:40 PM                                                                                                                    
CHRIS EICHENLAUB,  representing self,  Wasilla, Alaska,  spoke in                                                               
support of  SJR 9 due  to the  economic benefits from  the cruise                                                               
industry  throughout Alaska.  In fact,  he said  he supports  any                                                               
bill that  will open the state  up and allow things  to return to                                                               
normal. He suggested that businesses  could decide to stay closed                                                               
if the owner has concerns about COVID-19.                                                                                       
2:54:51 PM                                                                                                                    
VIKKI JO KENNEDY, representing self,  Juneau, Alaska, agreed with                                                               
the prior testifier  that businesses could decide  to stay closed                                                               
if the owner  has concerns about COVID-19.  She cautioned against                                                               
stopping  the progress  of  business in  Juneau  or elsewhere  in                                                               
2:57:25 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR MYERS closed public testimony on SJR 9.                                                                                   
2:57:39 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  KIEHL,  speaking as  sponsor,  said  he appreciates  the                                                               
robust  comments. He  clarified  that Congress  has authority  to                                                               
waive the  provisions of  the Passenger  Vessel Services  Act and                                                               
change federal  laws. He  pointed out  that the  CDC requirements                                                               
included  laboratory  testing  on  board  each  cruise  ship  for                                                               
passengers and crew and isolation  for those who test positive to                                                               
limit spread. The CDC included  requirements for shoreside COVID-                                                               
19 testing for  passengers and crew, including  for crew changes.                                                               
He said local  port agreements provide local  control and include                                                               
shoreside health  care providers. He  offered his view  that this                                                               
was a rigorous  and thorough approach to COVID-19  that will also                                                               
allow the possibility of economic  activity. He acknowledged that                                                               
issues arise. However, nothing in SJR 9 affects local control.                                                                  
3:01:05 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  MYERS  noted there  were  no  amendments and  solicited  a                                                               
3:01:19 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR SHOWER  moved to  report SJR  9, work  order 32-LS0503\B,                                                               
from  committee  with  individual  recommendations  and  attached                                                               
fiscal note(s).                                                                                                                 
CHAIR MYERS  found no objection and  SJR 9 was reported  from the                                                               
Senate Transportation Standing Committee.                                                                                       

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
SJR 9 Sponsor Statement 2.10.2021.pdf STRA 2/18/2021 1:30:00 PM
SJR 9 Support Testimony as of 2.17.2021.pdf STRA 2/18/2021 1:30:00 PM
SJR 9 Opposition Testimony as of 2.17.2021.pdf STRA 2/18/2021 1:30:00 PM
DOT Aviation & Airports Presentation 2.18.pdf STRA 2/18/2021 1:30:00 PM
SJR9 Fiscal Note.pdf STRA 2/18/2021 1:30:00 PM