Ferry bill finally heads out of committee

"It has a chance.On Monday, the state Senate Transportation Committee passed a bill that will enable private, non-profit, public or public-private partnerships to run passenger-only ferries.Now, before it can become law, the bill has more hurdles to clear: A full Senate vote, the House Transportation Committee, the full House and finally Gov. Gary Locke's approval.But at least the bill has a chance. Dozens of others were left behind yesterday, the deadline for passing bills out of committee to be heard this legislative session.Substitute Senate Bill 6212 made it to the top of the heap with the help of a work group ordered by Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee.The work group borrowed ideas from several other bills. When state-operated passenger ferry service ceases, their bill allows many different kinds of ferry operators to step in to run replacement service, opening the door to more than one kind of solution.The bill is the kind of enabling legislation that Sens. Betti Sheldon, D-23rd District, and Tim Sheldon, D-35th District, were looking for in their original proposals for public-private and private ferry service, respectively. It also establishes a joint task force on ferries that is almost identical to one proposed by Rep. Ruth Fisher, D-Tacoma. The task force is responsible for studying passenger-only ferry solutions including public, non-profit and private operations.The bill gives the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission authority to grant or revoke ferry permits, evaluate the quality of service and set rules on establishing fares.But the one thing the bill doesn't do is provide funding for current passenger ferry service until a new service provider can get up and running. Although the bill was drafted to do that, Haugen said the appropriation made her nervous, given this year's constricted budget, and she got the committee's support for an amendment to strike any mention of money.At the same time this bill was debated, the House Transporta-tion Committee passed Fisher's controversial House Bill 2866. That bill creates a joint task force on ferries and exempts ferry fares from Initiatives 695 and 601.The two exemptions generated hope in some, opposition in others. The Transportation Commission hoped it could reclaim its authority to raise ferry fares without voter approval. But Rep. Beverly Woods, R-23rd District, said she had some real heartburn with the exemptions.This flies in the face of what the people (told) us by voting for I-695, she said. So Woods introduced an amendment to Fisher's bill to dump the two exemptions.Woods said, We're here to find solutions. We shouldn't be putting (the burden of fares) more on the backs of the people. This doesn't address cuts in service. All it does is keep it at the bare bones level.Fisher signed on the Woods amendment and the House Transportation Committee sent the bill to full House with a do-pass recommendation."

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