New Scott, Rubio bill seeks to override CDC’s cruise regulations, allow sailing soon

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Alex Daugherty
·3 min read
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Florida’s U.S. Senators introduced legislation Tuesday to override the Centers for Disease Control’s existing framework cruise ships must follow to resume operations and replace current regulations with a new set of recommendations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 aboard ships.

Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, along with Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, all Republicans, introduced the Careful Resumption Under Improved Safety Enhancements, or CRUISE Act, the latest way Florida politicians are criticizing the CDC for the agency’s rules cruise lines must follow before they can resume operations.

“I think the CDC has not done their job,” Scott said in an interview. “I think they have not been responsive, they’ve not been transparent and you can’t figure out why. They’re not being responsive to the needs of the cruise industry to safely reopen, and we all want them to reopen and we all want them to do it in a safe manner.”

The CDC normally has wide latitude to impose public health measures, though it is responsible for implementing laws passed by Congress. Scott said he couldn’t think of a comparable example of Congress overturning public health standards passed by the CDC through legislation.

“All I know is that it never ends,” Scott said. “We keep talking to them and we never get feedback.”

The Cruise Act would require the CDC to revoke their existing framework by July 4, which requires cruise companies to secure agreements with ports and local health authorities in the cities they plan to visit. Once the agreements are in place, cruise companies can begin test voyages before welcoming passengers on board.

Instead, the bill would establish an inter-agency “working group” composed of the secretaries of Transportation, Homeland Security and Commerce along with industry representatives to develop a new set of CDC cruise ship recommendations by July 4, the latest possible date that cruises could resume operations.

“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,” Rubio said in a statement. “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 comes days after Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis sued the CDC in an attempt to resume cruises immediately, a measure experts called a “political stunt.” Unlike DeSantis, members of Congress oversee the CDC and the agency is responsible for implementing laws related to public health that are passed by the House and Senate.

It’s unclear if Rubio, Scott and Sullivan’s bill will have enough support to pass, though Democrats will likely need to back the GOP-only legislation for it to gain enough votes to become law.

Miami Republican Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar plans to introduce similar legislation in the House of Representatives.

“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.

On Friday, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said that resuming cruises presents a unique set of logistical and public health challenges compared to other modes of transportation, but that he would like to resume cruises by mid-summer.

“Airplanes have one safety profile; cruise ships have another, vehicles have another,” Buttigieg said. “And each one needs to be treated based on what’s safe for that sector. I’ll tell you, I certainly care a lot about seeing the cruise sector thrive. And I know that CDC is hopeful that a lot of these operators will be in a position to be sailing by mid-summer.”

Miami Herald staff writer Taylor Dolven contributed to this report.