Mediation fails: CDC-Florida cruise dispute is back in court

Florida and the CDC failed to reach an agreement during mediation over the state’s April 8 lawsuit against the Biden administration to overturn the CDC’s cruise ban. The case now returns to court, a little more than two weeks after a judge ordered the two sides to try to work out their differences outside of courtroom. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office placed blame on the CDC, saying the impasse was declared “despite Florida’s sincere efforts to reach a compromise.”

“Unfortunately, the CDC has opted to continue its ridiculous and unlawful regulations that target a single industry by imposing vaccine requirements — something no other business or industry must do. These requirements not only discriminate against one industry, but children, families, and small businesses,” the governor’s office said in a statement.

The backstory

Florida sued the Biden administration in federal district court on April 8 to overturn the ban on cruising, saying the yearlong lockdown of the cruise industry by the federal government had “directly harmed the state of Florida, its citizens and their families, resulting in the loss of billions of dollars in economic activity.” Alaska and Texas joined Florida’s lawsuit.

After the CDC requested more time to relitigate the case, the state filed a response saying that as the case drags on, “Florida is suffering irreparable harm every day, and the rest of the country — even places like California — will soon be back to normal. With no basis in fact or law, the cruise industry is being singled out.”

“The CDC did almost nothing to reopen sailing until Florida filed suit,” DeSantis’ office said. “As Florida’s cruise lines address the CDC’s constantly changing labyrinth of requirements for safety plans and simulations, time is of the essence. While it is a positive sign to see the CDC begin to green-light ‘conditional cruises’ following Florida’s lawsuit, there is still no set date upon which cruises can resume business operations. The CDC has no excuse for ruining two summers of sailing and it is well past time to end the CDC’s desperate attempt to prolong its power trip over America. Floridians are ready for a real trip on our waters.”

The CDC said on June 3 that at least eight cruise ships have been approved for test sailings and two for revenue cruises. The CDC argued in a filing earlier this week that if Florida should prevail, it could jeopardize the cruise industry’s restart in Alaska because the federal law signed by President Biden that allows cruise ships to sail to Alaska this summer, the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act (ATRA), is predicated on the existence of the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO). 

The legislation, which temporarily exempts cruise ships sailing in Alaska from the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) for as long as Canada’s cruise ban is in place, applies to ships that have a Covid–19 Conditional Sailing Certificate, which is part of the CSO.

The PVSA requires foreign-flagged ships, which almost all large cruise vessels are, to stop in at least one foreign port when sailing between two U.S. destinations and is the reason Alaska cruises start or stop in ports in British Columbia, Canada. The CDC argues that if Florida prevails and there is an injunction against the CSO, then Canada’s cruise ban through February would prevent ships from passing between Seattle and Alaska without touching a foreign port.

Since the ATRA passed, at least six large-ship cruise lines have scheduled sailings from Seattle to Alaska. 

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