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Cruise ship association questions signatures on Alaska initiative
by Paula Dobbyn
Anchorage Daily News
McClatchy Newspapers


January 08, 2005

Anchoarge, Alaska - The NorthWest Cruise Ship Association has hired a former Secret Service agent to search for forgery among more than 23,000 signatures submitted in support of a cruise-ship ballot initiative.

It's the first time in Alaska history that a forensic document examiner will independently verify signatures that the Division of Elections has already deemed valid, state officials said Thursday.

The document examiner is Eugene P. Hussey, of Fircrest, Wash., whose resume says he has 24 years experience as a U.S. Secret Service agent, working with forged government documents and counterfeit currency, and giving handwriting opinions. Hussey will spend Monday and Tuesday in Juneau, Alaska, examining signatures for authenticity and possible forgeries, assistant attorney general Sarah Felix said.

Hussey declined to be interviewed.

The initiative would impose a $50 per person head tax on cruise passengers. Among its many other features, the initiative would also require the giant ships to get pollution discharge permits and make the cruise lines turn over to the state more than a third of shipboard gambling revenue after prizes and taxes. The measure would also station "ocean rangers" aboard the ships. These marine engineers would independently monitor ship discharges to make sure they comply with the law.

Lt. Gov. Loren Leman on Dec. 17 certified the initiative to be placed on the ballot in the August 2006 primary.

The cruise lines vigorously oppose it.

"It's designed to punish the industry," said John Shively, Anchorage-based vice president of government and community relations for Holland America Line.

Shively defended hiring Hussey.

"Given the closeness of the count and given the potential impact on the industry, we think it's worth looking at," he said.

The group pushing the ballot initiative, Responsible Cruising in Alaska, turned over to the Election Division 27,877 signatures of Alaskans supporting the measure. Elections officials determined that 23,312 are valid, said Naomi Nelson, elections coordinator. That is just 27 more signatures of registered voters than the 23,285 state law requires to get an initiative on the ballot, she said.

The Elections Division is going through the signatures again and will release a final tally Wednesday, she added.

"Given the very thin margin, we do feel it's important that we consider all the possibilities," said John Hansen, head of the NorthWest Cruise Ship Association. "It would be terribly damaging to tourism in Alaska and certainly to our business."

Hansen said he did not know how much the initiative could cost the cruise lines. Last year the ships carried more than 800,000 passengers, which would have raised $40 million had the tax been in place. Supporters of the ballot measure say Alaska sorely needs that money to offset the costs of accommodating nearly 1 million cruisers a year, especially in small towns where the passenger count dwarfs the local population.

Initiative sponsors say they are peeved that the cruise association is paying a forgery expert to pick over the signatures of Alaska voters.

"This tells me that the cruise-ship industry has no respect for the democratic process and they're afraid that the citizens would enact a reasonable measure to collect revenue and stop pollution," said Joe Geldhof, a Juneau attorney who helps lead Responsible Cruising in Alaska.


Distributed by Scripps-McClatchy Western Service,

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