(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and Congressman Norm Dicks have eliminated a planned three-dollar fee for international ferry passengers, which was to take effect on February 27th.
The delegation members put language into the House-Senate Conference bill on the 2003 Omnibus Appropriations bill to exempt ferry passengers from the fee on international ship passengers that will help INS hire more inspectors and improve processing of applications.
The new three-dollar fee on international cruise ships was adopted in last year's Commerce Justice State and the Judiciary (CJSJ) spending bill, but was not intended to include international passenger ferries. Such a fee increase would have a dramatic impact on the relatively inexpensive fares charged by passenger ferries, while the impact would be minimal on the price of a cruise ship fare.
The 2002 U.S. Department of Justice Budget Summary document specifically refers only to cruise ships when justifying the INS fee. Despite this clear direction by Congress and the Administration, the Department of Justice issued a rule that expanded the definition to include international passenger ferries.
Washington's delegation corrected this definition and limited INS fees to international cruise ships alone.
"International ferry travel is a very important part of our economy and transportation system in the Pacific Northwest," said Murray. "A three-dollar fee would significantly impact the pocketbooks of Washington residents who depend on our ferries for their transportation needs. For our residents and our economy, we must keep passenger ferries affordable and accessible."
"The Washington state ferry system is a critical link in the community and local economies," Cantwell said. "Eliminating the three-dollar fee will keep the ferry system afloat between Washington state and Canada." In May, Cantwell convened a meeting between the INS and local ferry operators to impress upon the INS the substantial negative impact a three-dollar fee would have on Washington state communities.
"Our congressional delegation worked hard to insert this small - but important -- clarification of law into the appropriations bill, and I am very pleased that it was approved in time to stop the INS from applying the fee to ferry passengers later this month," said Rep. Dicks. "It was never the intent of Congress to apply the immigration surcharge to people who were simply commuting or traveling to Canada for brief periods of time," he said.
Washington state has 75 percent of the nation's international ferries, in addition to having the largest ferry system in the country.