Ask about the Jones Act

As the Trump administration continues its efforts to reduce the regulatory burden on businesses and the economy, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii is working to remove one of the biggest economic burdens in Hawaii — the Jones Act.

Last week, the Grassroot Institute submitted comments on the Jones Act to the federal Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), part of the Office of Management and Budget. Seeking to comply with the administration’s directive to reduce red tape, OIRA asked the public to weigh in on how regulations in the maritime sector could be modified or repealed to remove unnecessary burdens, increase efficiency or simplify compliance.

The Grassroot Institute was quick to point out that when it comes to maritime law, there’s one set of laws and regulations that burdens industry, raises the cost of living, shuts down businesses and costs billions of dollars annually. As we wrote in our testimony, the cabotage provisions of the Jones Act — which require goods shipped between U.S. ports to do so on vessels built and flagged in the U.S., with predominantly U.S. crews — need to be brought into the 21st century.

In our comments, we acknowledged that substantive reform requires action from Congress, and made the case for repealing the U.S.-build requirement of the Act. The Jones Act has long outlived its usefulness for national defense, so it makes sense to allow shippers to purchase vessels from our allies.

Why raise the issue with OIRA when we need Congress to change the existing law? Because we must create a chorus of voices in Washington, all pushing to update the Jones Act.

Despite the best efforts of the Jones Act lobby, reforming the Act is no longer off the table in D.C. Its viability has been questioned frequently in recent months, especially in light of the waiver issued to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

Hawaii has yet to field a Congressional delegation open to Jones Act reform, which puts the onus on voters to pay attention to the candidates’ positions on reform during this election. The current field of Congressional candidates includes everything from strong supporters to reform-minded critics of the Jones Act. So be sure to look into their statements on the Jones Act — as well as whether they receive money from Jones Act interests, such as maritime companies and unions.

Research has shown that the Jones Act is a burden to businesses and consumers, especially in Hawaii where it contributes to our high cost of living, and Hawaii voters should start asking tough questions to local candidates about the outdated, ineffective and downright harmful Jones Act.

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