Senators introduce legislation to force CDC’s hand on cruise industry restart

Photo (c) Daniel Piraino EyeEm - Getty Images

Lawmakers are trying to get the cruise industry sailing again by July 4

The cruise industry got some more support in its grudge match against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday. U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) introduced the Careful Resumption Under Improved Safety Enhancements (CRUISE) Act. If enacted, the bill would revoke the CDC’s current Conditional Sail Order on cruises and put ships back at sea by July 4, 2021.

This marks the third time the CDC has found itself in a defensive position over cruising. The agency first faced pressure from cruise industry trade groups, then the state of Florida. But the trio of senators behind the new bill tried to make their legislation as much of a win-win as possible by still allowing the CDC to provide COVID-19 mitigation guidance for cruise lines. 

The proposed legislation also offers the CDC:

  • The establishment of an interagency “Working Group” that will develop guidance to facilitate the resumption of cruise ship operations in the U.S.

  • Guarantees that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and CDC retain the authority to make and enforce regulations necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases on any individual cruise ship.

Florida, Alaska, and cruisers win

The pivot points in the proposed legislation are Florida -- a state from which 5 million travelers set sail and $9 billion in cruising-related money is generated each year -- and cruisers, many of whom have been vaccinated and are flooding cruise lines with reservations so they can take a much-needed post-pandemic break. 

“The benefits of cruise operations are integral to the economies of Florida’s port cities,” Rubio said. “Floridians and many other Americans who are employed by ports, cruise operators, or work in hospitality jobs near cruise terminals face an uncertain future because of the CDC’s unresponsiveness to requests for guidance by stakeholder groups.”

Alaska has also been hard-hit by both the CDC and Canadian orders. Sen. Sullivan tried to reason that the playing field the CDC set for the various travel segments is not exactly level.

“Unlike the airlines, rail, and other modes of transportation—and all other sectors of the hospitality industry for that matter—the cruise lines have been denied clear direction from the CDC on how to resume operations,” he said. 

“The foot-dragging, mixed messages, and unresponsiveness of CDC leaders is totally unacceptable and ultimately endangering the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Americans and the hundreds of small businesses across Alaska that rely on the tourism sector. My legislation with Senators Scott and Rubio will accomplish what letters, meetings, and repeated phone calls have not -- directing the CDC to finally codify timely guidance and a plan for cruise ships to safely and responsibly welcome passengers again this summer.”

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