LIHUE — Hawaii legislators have filed resolutions seeking reforms to the Jones Act because they said it’s driving up costs for Hawaii and other isolated areas dependent on shipping.
State Sen. Samuel Slom (R-9) introduced concurrent senate resolutions co-sponsored by eight senators, while State Rep. Sam Kong (D-33) introduced two House resolutions co-sponsored by five more. They all urge the U.S. Congress to exempt Hawaii, Alaska, Guam and Puerto Rico from the Jones Act, and the domestic build requirement for its restrictive impact on the non-contiguous trade markets for shipping goods.
“The Jones Act was originally meant to protect the shipping industry and maritime trade, but almost a century has gone by and it’s easy to see that the law does not serve its original purpose,” Slom said in a press release. “Today, the effect of the Jones Act is that people in Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and Guam pay significantly more than the rest of the country for everyday necessities.”
Kauai legislators are not listed as co-sponsors to the legislation. They could not be reached for comment.
U.S. Sen. John McCain introduced legislation to repeal the domestic build requirement in the Jones Act in January. It was to be added to the Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act, which was vetoed by President Barack Obama on Tuesday.
Hawaii Shippers’ Council President Michael Hansen said the McCain rider never made it into the Keystone Act, along with most of the other 55 unrelated rider amendments. They were heard in committee, but not given much consideration on the Senate floor.
“The bill’s managers in the Senate stated before the debate began they would not consider amendments unrelated to the subject matter of the act in an effort to keep the measure as clean as possible and increase its potential to be enacted,” Hansen said. “Obviously, Senator McCain’s proposed amendment concerning cabotage was unrelated to approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline.”
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono had opposed the McCain amendment, but could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. She said previously that if U.S. shipbuilding contracts went to international companies, it would create instability to the nation’s shipbuilding industry, to jobs in Hawaii, and to national security.
Hansen praised the Hawaii legislators for their efforts to support merchants that ship cargo with common carrier services in the Hawaii trade including Matson, Horizon Lines, and Pasha Hawaii Transport Lines. He said this very narrow and moderate reform would not change the U.S. flag, crew and ownership requirements of the Jones Act, and only allow U.S. ship owners to acquire foreign built ships, and register them to operate in the domestic noncontiguous trades.
“We are interested in a competitive environment among the ocean carriers that provides good service levels at a reasonable freight cost,” Hansen said.
The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (Jones Act) requires all goods shipped between U.S. ports and noncontiguous jurisdictions be carried by vessels that were built in U.S. shipyards, 75 percent U.S. owned and crewed.
The Maritime Administration (MARAD) of the U.S. Department of Transportation, has the authority to grant Jones Act provisions. In the past they were issued to allow for speedy but temporary response to disaster areas.