Is Revising the Jones Act Politically Possible?

By Keli’i Akina

Reuters market analyst John Kemp has published a significant mapping of the political terrain in which the Jones Act is entrenched. While the article documents that the Jones Act is “bad public policy,” the author concludes that overturning it is virtually impossible given the long-standing and current political, corporate and union environment throughout the United States.

At the Grassroot Institute, we also see these forces at work in the Hawaii political and business arena, but we have come to a slightly more hopeful conclusion than Reuters.

Kemp’s article analyzes only one approach to revising the Jones Act, a full rescinding of all aspects of the 93-year old law.  Indeed, such an overturn, while not impossible, would be a true Herculean feat. Consequently, attorney John Carroll’s attempts in federal court to seek full exemption from the Jones Act for Hawaii and similar areas have not met with success.

As an alternate approach, Michael N. Hansen, president of Hawaii Shippers Council, who functions as our Grassroot Institute Jones Act research director, has promoted a “modified reform.” Such an approach would exempt Hawaii and other non-contiguous U.S. regions only from one of four requirements of the law, the exclusive use of US-built ships.

The greater political traction for a modified reform inspired a bi-partisan attempt to pass a Jones Act reform resolution led by state Rep. Gene Ward in the recent session of the Hawaii Legislature. The shifting tide in Hawaii’s political climate may produce opportunities for politicians to rally around new centers of change and influence.  A limited measure of reform to the Jones Act could become one of these centers.

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii continues to pursue multiple strategies for seeking remedies from the Jones Act for Hawaii and other affected states and territories. Our efforts include collaborations with public policy think tanks across the country and international organizations focused on trade issues. We seek to generate a growing popular awareness of the Jones Act and its affects upon our state’s economy.

For a clear description of the Jones Act and its impact on Hawaii, go here to listen to an informative Grassroot Institute interview with Michael Hansen.



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