Republican senators introduce legislation to overrule CDC, start cruising by July

Morgan Hines

Republican Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio of Florida and Dan Sullivan of Alaska introduced legislation Tuesday aiming to override the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's restrictions on cruising in U.S. waters, and allow ships to sail by July after the industry has been shut down longer than a year.

"Unlike the airlines, rail and other modes of transportation – and all other sectors of the hospitality industry for that matter – the cruise lines have been denied clear direction from the CDC on how to resume operations," Sullivan said in an announcement.

The Careful Resumption Under Improved Safety Enhancements Act, or the "CRUISE Act," would revoke the CDC’s current order that prevents cruises from sailing and "require the CDC to provide COVID-19 mitigation guidance for cruise lines to resume safe domestic operations," according to the announcement.

The CDC's "conditional sailing order" currently in place is meant to provide guidance that will lead to getting cruise ships sailing again in U.S. waters but has yet to provide a clear timeline for when cruising can resume

The legislation sets July 4 as the date by which a new interagency group should create recommendations for resuming cruise operations and would require the CDC to revoke its restrictions by then, too.

The cruise industry pushed the CDC publicly to drop its "outdated" restrictions in March. Early this month, the CDC issued additional technical guidance but offered no concrete timeline to signal when cruising could resume.

Sullivan said that "foot-dragging, mixed messages, and unresponsiveness of CDC leaders" is impacting the lives of Americans who are tied to the industry, including those residing in Sullivan's home state of Alaska, where cruising is facing additional challenges because of Canada's ban on cruises into 2022. 

Scott also sent a letter to White House COVID Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients in March asking for guidance on resumption, which has not been answered by the CDC, according to the announcement. Scott also introduced a bill in September to address health, safety and logistics as the industry sought to resume operations.

As the industry continues to sit idle in U.S. waters, some cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Virgin Voyages and Norwegian Cruise Line have moved itineraries for their ships abroad to the United Kingdom, the Caribbean and Israel, among other locations. Carnival Cruise Line also threatened this month to move its ships out of U.S. waters.

Florida has also filed a lawsuit against the federal government and the CDC to end the hold on cruising.

The CDC said in a statement on April that the agency is committed to working with the cruise industry to resume sailing by staying the course of a phased approach and following the steps outlined in its order. 

"This goal aligns with the desire for resumption of passenger operations in the United States expressed by many major cruise ship operators and travelers, hopefully by mid-summer," the CDC said in the statement provided by spokesperson Caitlin Shockey last week. USA TODAY has reached out to the CDC for additional comment on the latest legislation.

That doesn't mean cruises will restart this summer, however.

It "is dependent on cruise lines working through the phases of the CSO," Shockey told USA TODAY, referring to the CDC's conditional sailing order.

Rep. María Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., is "leading" the legislation in the House of Representatives, according to the release.