Senators from the states most impacted by the ban on cruise ships sailing from U.S. ports have introduced legislation that would override the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) regulations and allow cruising to begin again no later than July 4.
Florida Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, along with Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan today introduced the CRUISE Act — Careful Resumption Under Improved Safety Enhancements.
The legislation would require the CDC to revoke its existing framework by July 4. Known as the “Framework for Conditional Sailing,” the public health agency’s industry restart plan first unveiled in October 2020 has been the target of relentless criticism for its lack of a timeline and clear path.
‘Working Group’ Would Develop New Recommendations
The Senators’ bill would establish an inter-agency “working group” made up of the secretaries of Transportation, Homeland Security, and Commerce, as well as representatives of the industry. Their role would be to develop a new set of CDC cruise ship recommendations by July 4.
The current CDC Conditional Sailing Order (CSO), revised a week ago to include ‘Phase 2’ guidance, requires cruise companies to secure individual agreements with ports and health authorities in the cities they plan to sail from or visit. The next step would be to operate test cruises. Only then could cruise lines begin welcoming paying passengers again.
Cruise industry leaders, travel advisor trade groups, and the U.S. Travel Association have all criticized the revised CSO, saying it holds the business to a higher standard than other travel sectors, such as resorts and theme parks, which are already open.
“While many sectors of the economy have been safely operating for months under CDC guidelines, Floridians, and those across the nation that rely on the cruise industry for work, continue to wait for updated guidance from the CDC,” Scott said in a statement. “The CDC’s refusal to properly address this shutdown is wrong, and it’s time to get the cruise lines open safely.”
Rubio Calls Out CDC’s “Unresponsiveness”
Fellow Florida Senator Marco Rubio cited “the CDC’s unresponsiveness to requests for guidance from stakeholder groups” in expressing his support for the bill.
“I am proud to join Senators Sullivan and Scott in introducing legislation that would require the CDC to provide guidance to safely resume operations this summer, and allow Florida’s economy to recover even further.”
The new bill heaps more pressure on the CDC, days after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis launched a lawsuit against the health agency in an attempt to speed the process of reopening the cruise industry.
The CDC is not a legislative body. Members of Congress oversee the agency, which is responsible for implementing laws related to public health passed by the House and Senate.
Miami Republican Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar says she plans to introduce similar legislation in the House of Representatives.
“This Legislation Will Fix The CDC’s Arbitrary Guidelines”
“This legislation will fix the CDC’s arbitrary guidelines and give clarity and fairness to the industry that creates hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout Miami’s entire tourism economy,” Salazar said in a statement.
According to reporting by the Miami Herald, it is unclear if there’s enough support for the Senators’ bill to pass. The newspaper says some Democrats would likely need to back the legislation put forward by three Republican Senators in order for it to become law.
The new bill comes in the wake of a letter sent by Florida and Alaska Senators to Jeffrey Zients, White House COVID Coordinator, on March 25. That letter, which was also signed by several members of the House of Representatives, warned that thousands of jobs are at stake.
“The cruise industry has faced unique challenges amid this pandemic, and is one of the only industries that is completely precluded from resuming normal operations,” the letter stated.
“This has created a dramatic negative ripple effect on the Florida and Alaskan families, businesses, ports and communities that rely on the cruise industry. If the CDC does not quickly commit to start communicating timely and effective guidance, as well as hold frequent and productive meetings with cruise industry stakeholders, it will have harmful impacts on another peak season for the cruise industry.”