Congress should exempt Puerto Rico from shipping law, ABA House says

Annual Meeting

Ships must meet requirements of the Jones Act to dock in Puerto Rican ports. The ABA House of Delegates is now on record in favor of a waiver. Wassup6730/Shutterstock.com.

A nearly century-old shipping regulation is hampering Puerto Rico’s economic and physical recovery in the wake of Hurricane Maria last year, and Congress should enact legislation to permanently exempt the island, the ABA House of Delegates declared in a vote on Tuesday.

The Jones Act, as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 is known, places additional regulations and requirements on ships that travel between U.S. ports. It raises the cost of shipping, and every U.S. territory has been exempted from it, but Puerto Rico remains under its scope. “Estimates indicate that the Jones Act costs the Puerto Rican economy hundreds of millions of dollars every year, and in 2010 alone cost $537 million,” according to Resolution 10B’s accompanying report.

After Hurricane Maria hit in September, President Donald Trump issued a 10-day waiver for the shipping law. But advocates say the waiver should be permanent.

“The Jones Act raises the price of energy on the island at a time when Puerto Rican families are suffering through an energy crisis, and it raises the price of food when over 44 percent of the island is living in poverty,” says the report, which was written in a partnership between the New York State Bar Association and the New York City Bar Association. “Because of these substantial costs, a wide range of voices, on a bipartisan basis, have consistently requested that Puerto Rico be exempted from the substantial burdens of the Jones Act. The time to listen to these voices is now.”

The presidents of the New York State Bar Association and the New York City Bar Association rose to speak in favor of the resolution. Michael Miller of the New York State Bar Association said the resolution was the product of “an unprecedented collaboration” between the bar associations, and joked that an issue would have to be important if the associations could put aside their traditional rivalry to advocate for it.

“Exemption from the Jones Act will not work miracles, but it would be a major step forward,” said Miller.

President Roger Juan Maldonado of the New York City Bar Association spoke movingly about the destruction of his brother’s farm after the hurricane and the struggle to rebuild.

Several more House members rose to speak in favor of the resolutions, including Puerto Rican delegates Carlos Rodriguez-Vidal and David Rivera. Rivera called on the ABA to not only support Resolution 10B, but to also take more of a role in addressing the “legal, social and economic inequality” faced by Puerto Rico, and to challenge the ways in which Puerto Rico lacks representation and self-determination.

“Puerto Rico is not a self-governing territory of the United States, it is a colony of the United States,” Rivera said.

Resolution 10B passed overwhelmingly.

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