A bill loosening water pollution standards for cruise ships has passed the Senate and is on its way to Governor Parnell for his signature.
On a vote of 15-to-5, the Senate approved the bill without making any changes in the version sent over by the House.
The bill eliminates the requirement that cruise ships meet pollution standards as effluent leaves the pipes and goes into marine waters, instead allowing for a so-called mixing zone to further dilute the treated discharges.
While critics complained that the bill undermines a citizen's initiative passed in 2006, supporters said that cruise ships already exceed water-quality standards for homegrown industries and municipalities.
"And actually when you sit back and look at voter psychology, when people go into the ballot booths, it's not clear that voters always understand what they're voting on, to be honest,” said Senator Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage.
"If municipal effluent was discharged from a cruise ship, Mr. President, the ships would be breaking the law," said Senator Pete Micciche, R-Soldotna, a former mayor.
But Senator Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said there’s strong opposition to the bill. "Mr. President, we've heard from shellfish farmers, salmon trollers, Native tribes, fisherman, United Fishermen of Alaska, hundreds of Alaskans. I got emails on this. And I got emails from people who work with the cruise industry who said vote yes on this bill, and overwhelmingly people in my district said vote no on this bill."
The Legislature originally enacted tougher water-quality standards for cruise ships in 2001, following several criminal convictions of cruise lines for pollution in the 1990s.
The issue of school vouchers now will go before the Senate Education Committee, if possibly only for informational purposes.
Last Friday, at the request of Senate President Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, the Senate voted to remove from the jurisdiction of the education committee a proposed constitutional amendment to allow public funding of private education.
Committee Chair Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, was out of town at the time. Today Stevens announced that with or without the proposed amendment officially in his committee, he would be holding intensive presentations on the concept.
"Mr. President, I intend to jump on this issue with both feet. We will examine it from top to bottom, left to right, inside and out, port to starboard. By the time we get to a vote, I trust the members of the Senate will clearly understand how vouchers affect Alaska. We owe to this children and to our grandchildren, to the children of our neighbors and our friends, and to the children of Alaskans we don't even yet know."
At a press availability today, Huggins said he would consider referring the matter formally to Stevens' committee if substantial education questions remained after hearings in other committees.
Huggins originally did refer the matter to the Education Committee, but later said he had made a mistake.
Guns are another hot-button issue during this session.
Today a prominent Democrat clarified why he's siding with Republicans on fighting new federal gun laws.
House Minority Whip Chris Tuck of Anchorage is backing legislation by Speaker Mike Chenault that would make it a felony for federal officials to enforce restrictions on gun ownership in Alaska.
Tuck said there are special circumstances in our state, including continued reliance on a subsistence lifestyle.
"We've allowed people who own guns to be able to conceal and carry. And I think that this should be more of a state issue more than the federal government coming in and mandating. Our situation's unique than other states. And I just want to maintain that freedom to make the best decisions for ourselves."
The House Judiciary Committee passed the bill Monday. It now goes to the full House for a vote.