Let’s unite to reform the Jones Act

This past holiday season, I was excited to receive an early Christmas gift, courtesy of Hawaii Congressman Ed Case.

As we discussed when I interviewed him in September for my “Hawaii Together” program on ThinkTech Hawaii, U.S. Rep. Case has a long history of opposition to the Jones Act, one that has frequently put him at odds with his Hawaii congressional colleagues. 

During that interview, Case indicated he was considering a bill to reform the Jones Act, a protectionist maritime law that is a factor in Hawaii’s high cost of living. On Dec. 19, he introduced three measures to reform the archaic, century-old law, making him one of the few Democrats on the Hill to do so.

Among his new bills is the proposed Noncontiguous Shipping Relief Act, which would exempt all noncontiguous U.S. locales from the Jones Act. When we spoke, it was clear that he was focused on reform that would speak directly to Hawaii. Therefore, it’s no surprise to see that he has crafted a proposal that makes Hawaii the starting point for modernizing the Jones Act.

By taking the bold step to call for Jones Act reform for Hawaii, Case is issuing a challenge to his fellow Hawaii legislators. It is time that we recognize the negative economic impact of the Jones Act on both businesses and consumers in our beloved state, and it is my hope that the rest of Hawaii’s congressional delegation will follow Case’s lead and sign on or otherwise support this new effort to update the Jones Act.

Of course, legislation often changes as it makes its way through Congress, and these bills are so new that they haven’t even been assigned to a committee yet. However, this could be the beginning of a true bipartisan effort to bring the Jones Act into the 21st century. 

If so, there is great potential for the bill to change in a way that would help consumers and businesses beyond the noncontiguous states and territories. For example, it would be good to see an amendment that would modify the build requirement for all Jones Act ships, allowing companies to buy ships from America’s allies, as the U.S. Navy does. Such a change would go a long way toward reducing the costs of the Jones Act nationwide.

For years, the primary advocates of Jones Act reform have been Republicans, such as U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and the late U.S. Sen. John McCain from Arizona. Now, we’re seeing contributions from both sides of the political aisle. What’s more, Hawaii is helping lead the charge.

Case’s action was a great Christmas gift and will be an excellent start to 2020, when we will be observing the 100th anniversary of the sclerotic Jones Act. After 100 years, it is high time we adapt America’s maritime laws to fit our modern needs.

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