Speaker Stutes: ‘I am encouraged by the bipartisan effort that went into this bill, which is a reminder of how critical AMHS is to all Alaskans’
JUNEAU – The Alaska House of Representatives today voted unanimously to pass a bill that would establish a board tasked with finding solutions to keep the ferry system reliable, affordable, and sustainable.
House Bill 63 passed 37-0 and would establish the nine-member Alaska Marine Highway Operations Board. The board would be composed of the deputy commissioner of the Department of Transportation, four members appointed by the governor, two by the speaker of the house, and two by the senate president.
“One of the biggest challenges facing the Alaska Marine Highway System is a lack of clarity and long-term planning objectives,” said Speaker Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak), who sponsored HB 63. “This bill takes an important step toward building the system Coastal Alaskans deserve by utilizing marine business expertise and focusing on improving fleet design and vessel deployment strategy. I am encouraged by the bipartisan effort that went into this bill, which is a reminder of how critical AMHS is to all Alaskans.”
“Sitka sees fewer scheduled ferries today than at any point since the 1960s,” added Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka), who presented the bill on the floor. “HB 63 is the first of many urgently needed steps to help rebuild and provide stability for the ferry system.”
“The ferry system plays a vital role in the economy of Coastal Alaska, a fact highlighted by interruptions that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Rep. Sara Hannan (D-Juneau) said. “The new board will play an important role in making sure the system is prepared to serve Alaskans.”
Rep. Dan Ortiz (I-Ketchikan) added, “I am proud of the work the Legislature has done this year to improve the blue canoes, beginning with striking an agreement to forward fund the Alaska Marine Highway System and continuing today with the passage of a bill that will take a wider look and identify a long-term vision for the system.”
HB 63 now heads to the Senate for consideration.