OK due for bill on ship pilots

10 who guide vessels into port will be licensed

U.S. regulation avoided

Glendening dismisses companies' worries about fee increases

May 18, 2000|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has decided to sign a bill that will license the 10 docking pilots who guide oceangoing ships to piers in the Baltimore harbor, discounting warnings from some port users that it could drive up costs.

The governor announced that he would sign the heavily lobbied legislation as he vetoed 10 bills yesterday, none of them high-profile.

Opponents of the docking-pilots measure contend that it hands too much power to a new state board that will represent the pilots, who guide ships from the Key Bridge into the port. Critics fear the board could use its influence to persuade the state Public Service Commission to set unduly high fees for the pilots' work.

"There were a lot of calls to the governor by all of the users of the port" urging a veto, said Bruce C. Bereano, a lobbyist for tugboat companies.

Supporters said the state needed the law -- which sets rules governing the docking pilots -- to avoid the prospect of federal regulation.

Glendening spokesman Michael Morrill said the bill was "examined carefully" before the governor decided to sign it. He added that

Glendening wrote the PSC asking that it make sure no "anti-competitive" rate increases were approved.

The final bill, changed greatly during the 90-day session, creates a board to oversee the docking pilots but does not push them into the same organization as Maryland's bay pilots, who bring ships up the Chesapeake from Norfolk to the Key Bridge.

That plan, passed in the Senate, was dropped in the House after port officials protested that it would give the combined organization a monopoly over piloting and docking work.

Gary Alexander, a lobbyist for the bay pilots, said the final legislation will have little effect on his clients. He predicted that the bill will have little effect on rates, contending that docking fees are "an insignificant part" of port costs.

He said bay pilots supported the governor's move because of the threat of federal regulation. The Coast Guard had warned that it would bring the unregulated docking pilots under its control if the state did not act.

Morrill said that was a factor in Glendening's decision to sign.

He said Glendening resolved concerns about the oversight panel in discussions with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.

The three decided to use their combined powers to fashion a broader oversight committee that will include executive branch representatives, Morrill said.

Among the bills that Glendening vetoed yesterday was a measure that would have exempted from the state sales tax sales of water in containers larger than a gallon.

Morrill said the governor decided that the bill would primarily have aided businesses that sell bottled water and consumers who buy it as a matter of choice rather than rural homeowners with contaminated ground water, the intended beneficiaries of the tax break.

Glendening also vetoed a bill that would have reduced marriage fees for couples in Anne Arundel County if they took a pre-marriage education course within a year of the wedding. He said the bill was vague and could set a statewide precedent without sufficient debate.

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