The Alaska State Legislature passed a bill to create a new oversight board for the Alaska Marine Highway System and its ships like the Tazlina, seen here coming into dock at Juneau on May 16, 2020. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

The Alaska State Legislature passed a bill to create a new oversight board for the Alaska Marine Highway System and its ships like the Tazlina, seen here coming into dock at Juneau on May 16, 2020. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Bill to create new AMHS board heads to governor

State officials want stability for ferry system

A bill creating a new oversight board for the Alaska Marine Highway System is on its way to Gov. Mike Dunleavy, after the Alaska House of Representatives approved a final version of the bill.

The bill, which passed Wednesday morning, was sponsored by House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, and is part of a yearslong effort to reform the aging ferry system.

Stutes’ bill was based on recommendations made by the AMHS Reshaping Work Group commissioned by the governor last year. Among its findings, the work group reported the lack of long-term planning seriously hampered AMHS’s ability to operative effectively. Dunleavy submitted his own bill establishing a similar advisory board, but that bill wasn’t passed.

[House passes bill to create new ferry board]

The board would be composed of the deputy commissioner of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, four members appointed by the governor, two by the speaker of the House, and two by the Senate president, according to a news release from the House Majority Coalition.

However, an April 6 memo from the Legislative Affairs Agency said having legislative leaders select members for an executive board might create a separation of powers issue.

In an email, Dunleavy spokesperson Jeff Turner said the governor would consider the bill once his office received it.

In April, Dunleavy and Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, announced a plan to use $76.8 million in federal relief money to fund the ferry system for 18 months. Lack of funding and being caught in year-to-year budget battles was another area the work group cited as hampering AMHS’s effectiveness and reliability.

“The Alaska Legislature has made tremendous progress this year toward correcting the Alaska Marine Highway System’s course,” said Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau. “We have secured a deal to forward fund the ferries and create the infrastructure that will help determine long-term strategies for success.”

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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