Thursday, 24 July 2014

Rockefeller seeks to tie cruise reforms to Coast Guard bill

Rockefeller seeks to tie cruise reforms to Coast Guard bill

By Tom Stieghorst

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D.-W.Va.) signaled his intent to attach his cruise industry consumer protection legislation to a bill to reauthorize the U.S. Coast Guard, strengthening its chances of consideration.

Rockefeller introduced his Cruise Passenger Protection Act last year, but despite co-sponsorship by several Democratic senators it has not been passed out of committee.

At a hearing of the U.S. Commerce Committee, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said in his opening remarks that he thought it would be best as a stand-alone bill and not in connection with the Coast Guard authorization act.

Later in the hearing, Rockefeller disagreed, saying, "Everybody knows that the Coast Guard reauthorization is a bill Congress has to pass. If you separate this, the Coast Guard bill will pass and the cruise ship bill will get flushed down the toilet.

"My job as chairman is to make sure we don't play the game that way," Rockefeller said.

The Coast Guard bill sets funding for the agency for the next two years and has numerous other provisions supported by various constituencies. It passed the House in April without the consumer measures, but a conference committee could adopt the Rockefeller provisions if they are included in the Senate's bill.

The measures would make it easier for consumers to report crimes and make complaints about problems on cruise ships, according to Rockefeller, while simplifying ticket contracts and publishing more information about crimes and other problems on cruise ships.

"These aren't crazy ideas," Rockefeller said. "They are common-sense protections that consumers already have if they travel in airplanes or by rail."

Cruise industry representatives who testified at hearings last year said the provisions were regulatory over-reach or problematic for other reasons.

No industry representatives appeared at this year's hearings. Witnesses included passengers or their relatives who experienced crimes, medical emergencies or mechanical breakdowns on ships, plus a Miami lawyer who has sued cruise lines over such issues.