By: MIASF Staff
Date posted: Apr 28, 2020 Tue
MIASF’s legislative agenda and advocacy have been in the forefront of the association’s activities this month, with much of the effort easily managed through virtual communication. On the federal level, we continue to monitor the FEC bridge operation, which has been reduced significantly since the suspension of the Brightline passenger rail service. The live feed of the camera is available for public view on our website at https://www.miasf.org/live. March 30th marked the deadline for comments on the current test deviation that offers a predictable opening the first 10 minutes of every hour and default open position when there is no train traffic. The test deviation operation will continue for several more months while comments are reviewed, and it is determined if adjustments are needed.
March began with a presidential order of travel restrictions. MIASF, together with its federal lobbyist, was successful in having Customs and Border Protection release a clarification document stating yacht crew with B1 visas were recognized as sea crew and with exception to travel to the U.S. Another issue impacting foreign crew was the expiration of their stay in the U.S. and an inability to leave. MIASF confirmed that crew in this position should immediately apply for an extension of stay by filing an I-539 form with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS.gov). This must be done before the expiration date on the I-94. Failure to do so can result in a three-year wait period before receiving a new visa for overstaying the permitted time. USCIS is understanding of the impact of COVID-19 and visa extensions will be reviewed with that in mind.
Recognizing that visas and cruising licenses were going to continue to be an issue as more and more boats were opting to cancel the summer cruising plans in the Mediterranean and spend the summer in the United States, discussion was had on how best to address the situation and make the states more welcoming to the yacht business and the economic impact it represents. The result was the draft of proposed legislation presented to appropriate members and committees of Congress regarding temporary relief on crew visas, cruising licenses, and recreational demise charters. It is hoped the language may be included in the next round of recovery legislation with our Florida representatives in bipartisan support.
At the state level we, like many other industries, were engaged from the beginning to ensure the marine industry was recognized as essential. This effort was accomplished; however, it was immediately followed by a weekend of boaters not following social distancing guidelines and large groups at sandbars.
To control the behavior, local governments issued a variety of orders closing boat ramps, marinas, and fueling stations. While the intent was the same, the rules varied and when the Governor issued his emergency order, he included Miami-Dade’s language, which had gone through several amendments. The effort to clarify and separate marine industry businesses from irresponsible recreational boaters caused confusion, particularly with decision makers without the intimate knowledge of the dramatic differences in recreational boating as a business. Our state lobbyist has worked diligently on our behalf, championing our position, and working for clarity in orders.
Locally our municipal governments have struggled to balance the convoluted emergency order and compliance with understanding the importance of the industry to the economic health of the community and the responsibility to maintain a safe and secure environment for their citizens and the vessels that require ongoing attention. Fortunately, many of the challenges have been addressed. Language mixing boat ramps and marine services has been better defined to permit the shipyards to continue to operate as the essential businesses they are, and Broward County has taken the position that fuel sales are permitted. Additionally, City of Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Ben Sorensen spearheaded the effort to open the fuel docks in Fort Lauderdale, passing the initiative on a 3-2 vote. MIASF and its local lobbyist continue to work together with leadership in those communities to find a resolution to the issue as we move forward. Boat ramps are open with some restrictions in accordance with the City of Fort Lauderdale emergency order issued on April 28th.
Mayor Dean Trantalis has created a panel to advise him on how and when to reopen businesses and amenities. The Mayor has extended an invitation to MIASF CEO/President Phil Purcell to serve on the panel representing the marine industry. Phil has accepted and looks forward to representing the marine industry during this process.