The Alaska State House passed Senate Joint Resolution 9 urging the U.S. Congress and President Joe Biden to temporarily halt federal laws that currently block large cruise ships from visiting Alaska. The resolution passed the House 38-2 with only Rep. David Eastman (R-Wasilla) and Rep. Christopher Kurka (R-Wasilla) opposed. A similar measure is now before the Alaska Senate.
The bill attempts to address concerns over the Passenger Vessel Services Act, which requires large cruise ships with more than 100 passengers to stop in at least one international port before arriving in Alaska. On Feb. 2, however, the Canadian government closed its ports to cruise ships for the entire 2021 season due to COVID concerns. This effectively blocks summer cruises to Alaska until the spring of 2022.
Eastman said he opposed the bill because it goes beyond asking the U.S. Congress to change the law regarding passenger ships, and actually requests that President Biden not enforce a duly passed federal law. Eastman said he could have supported resolution if it had simply asked Congress to change what he considers to be a very bad federal law.
On the federal level, all three members of Alaska’s Congressional delegation have introduced bills to make the temporary changes which SJR 9 requests.
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The UK is considering a proposal to allow cruises in May and multiple cruise lines have already announced trips beginning after May 17.
SJR 9 notes that more than 2,260,000 visitors traveled to Alaska in 2019 with half of those coming via cruise ships. Together, these tourists generate more than $214 million in state and municipal revenue, more than $1.4 billion in payroll and $2.2 billion in visitor spending. This influx of money creates 8,394 jobs annually.
If the U.S. Congress agrees to suspend the Passenger Vessels Services Act, large cruise ships (of more than 100 passengers) could resume operations this summer, albeit with stringent health and safety measures such as mitigation plans for crews and passengers, and increased testing. A number of cruise lines have, but not all, are requiring every passenger to be vaccinated before traveling.