Boat Line Bill Moves Quietly

Joint Transportation Committee Hosts Surprise Public Hearing on Legislation Believed Dead; Marc Hanover Will Protest


A sleeper bill to change the governing board of the Steamship Authority, reportedly sent into limbo earlier this year, emerged last week for a surprise public hearing before the Joint Committee on Transportation.

In reaction, officials from the Steamship Authority - including Vineyard governor and board chairman Marc Hanover and SSA general manager Wayne Lamson - are scheduled to meet tomorrow in Boston with Sen. Steven Baddour and Rep. Joseph Wagner, the chairmen of the joint committee.

"Our lobbyist and Wayne were both assured by Mr. Baddour that the bill is in its death throes," Mr. Hanover said yesterday. "We're going up to Boston to just show them the other side, to show them they've been misled."

SSA representatives were not invited to testify at last week's hearing.

Sponsored by Senator Baddour, the bill would reduce the weighted vote shared by the Vineyard and Nantucket representatives from 35 per cent each to 20 per cent each, eliminating the board control that the two Islands have held since the SSA was created in 1960.

Under the bill, two new members would be added to the five-member boat line board: the secretary of the executive office on transportation, who would serve as chairman, and a governor's appointee. Each new member would be given a weighted vote of 15 per cent.

Senator Baddour previously had said he did not intend to pursue the bill, given what he had learned about the lack of state subsidy for the SSA.

But a spokesman for the senator, Eleni Varitimos, said that once filed, a bill must have a public hearing; hence last week's session.

State Sen. Robert O'Leary, who represents the Vineyard, said he has been assured by senator Baddour that the bill has no prospects.

"He told me he could not pull it," Mr. O'Leary said. "He had to have a hearing, even though he filed it."

It is understood that the bill has the backing of the boat line unions.

During the hearing, William Campbell, a representative of Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association, which is in contract negotiations with the SSA, testified in favor of the bill. So did state Rep. Matt Patrick of Falmouth.

"I have a problem with the way that the Steamship Authority handles the union," Mr. Patrick said yesterday. "They have a policy that sets out to kill the union. It's not right for any part of the state to have that kind of policy."

Two new members, Mr. Patrick said, would add to the perspective that the board brings to union matters.

Mr. Hanover said yesterday he was troubled by the bill's lingering life.

"These things scare me," he said. "You never know if it's going to be piggy-backed with something else."

Mr. Hanover denied that the boat line is out to kill union representation.

"No," he said. "Absolutely not. We want to work with our employees to sit down and resolve these issues. Nobody's out to bust anybody."

Mr. Hanover said the bill is dangerous. "The thought of the state getting involved down here is really scary," he said.

Ms. Varitimos said yesterday she anticipates that the joint committee in the next few weeks will issue either a favorable or unfavorable report on the bill, which could make the bill available for further movement, or vote to report the bill for study, which likely will end its prospects for any further movement this year.

The boat line board was expanded from three to five members three years ago through amended enabling legislation, following a hostile four-year battle over the introduction of ferry service between New Bedford and the Vineyard.