Republican legislators introduce companion Jones Act reform bills in Congress
by Michael Hansen, Hawaii Shippers’ Council, Wednesday, May 19, 2021
Two Republican lawmakers in Congress announced in a press release issued May 14, 2021, they, “Lee, McClintock Introduce Bill to Repeal Jones Act.”
Their press release states, “Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) have introduced the Open America’s Water Act, a bill that would repeal the Jones Act and allow all qualified vessels to engage in domestic trade between U.S. ports.”
This would mark the fourth time legislation known as “Open America’s Waters Act” has been introduced in Congress. The three previous iterations of the similarly-titled bills proposed to remove what is known as the “domestic build requirement” of the coastwise laws (i.e., the Jones Act in its broader meaning) for all types and sizes of commercial vessels engaged in any domestic trade. Although this has continued to be referred to as “repeal of the Jones Act,” it is not. Many of the other coastwise requirements such as registration (flag), manning and ownership would remain in force.
The original “Open America’s Waters Act of 2010,” S. 3525, was introduced as a standalone bill by U.S. Senator John S. McCain on June 23, 2010 during the 2nd Session of the 111th Congress. It didn’t have any cosponsors, was not acted upon and died at the end of the Congress. Sen. McCain offered on January 13, 2015, the same language as the original bill in the form of an amendment, SA 4, to “The Keystone XL Pipeline Act of 2015.” It was not adopted.
After Sen. McCain’s death on August 28, 2018, Senator Michael S. (“Mike”) Lee (R-UT) picked up the Jones Act reform mantle and introduced without cosponsors on March 7, 2019, “Open America’s Waters Act of 2019,” S. 694, during the first session of the 116th Congress (2-019 – 2020). It was substantially the same legislation and not acted upon.
As of May 19, 2021, the Congressional website, “Congress.gov,” is not listing a Jones Act bill introduced by Sen Lee during the current 117th Congress (2021 – 2022). Presumably it will be posted in the next several days.
The Congressional website has posted a Jones Act bill introduced on May 13, 2021, by U.S. Representative Thomas M. ("Tom") McClintock II (R-CA-04). That bill, H.R. 3205, is described on the website as “To repeal the Jones Act restrictions on coastwise trade, and for other purposes,”
and will presumably be given the short title of “Open America’s Waters Act of 2021.” Currently, the text of the bill is not available and the website noted “As of 05/19/2021 text has not been received for H.R.3205.”.
Presumably Sen Lee and Rep. McClintock have introduced what are known as companion bills meaning that the same bill was introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
Until the text of the bills are posted to the Congressional website, it will not be possible to further characterize the bills.
From the press release posted May 14, 2021, to Sen Lee’s official website.
“Restricting trade between U.S. ports is a huge loss for American consumers and producers,” said Sen. Lee. “It is long past time to repeal the Jones Act entirely so that Alaskans, Hawaiians, and Puerto Ricans aren’t forced to pay higher prices for imported goods—and so they rapidly receive the help they need in the wake of natural disasters.”
“The Jones Act is a protectionist law that drives up the cost of commerce, and those costs ultimately fall on the consumer,” said Rep. McClintock. “ Just this week, the Jones Act had to be waived to ensure the East Coast had an adequate fuel supply, much like it is often waived to respond to natural disasters in U.S. territories. The solution is not selective waivers in times of distress – it’s repealing this disastrous law altogether.”
In 1920, Congress passed the Jones Act, which requires all goods transported by water between U.S. ports to be carried on vessels constructed, registered, owned, and crewed primarily by U.S. citizens. This imposes significant costs on American consumers and businesses, especially those in Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico, which rely on import commodities from the continental U.S.
The Cato Institute estimates that after accounting for the inflated costs of transportation and infrastructure, the forgone wages and output, the lost domestic and foreign business revenue, and the monetized environmental toll, the annual cost of the Jones Act is in the tens of billions of dollars.
Additionally, the Jones Act makes it more difficult to provide relief supplies in the aftermath of natural disasters. As a result, presidents have routinely waived the Jones Act in the wake of natural disasters, as they have done after Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, and Maria.
McCain challenges Jones Act build and ownership requirements, Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Lee, McClintock Introduce Bill to Repeal Jones Act - Press Releases - United States Senator Mike Lee (senate.gov)