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Lawmakers again push for shipping law reform


Lawmakers in the state House and Senate are making another attempt at Jones Act reform.

The maritime law requires shipping vessels traveling between U.S. ports be American built, owned and manned. Critics say this leads to high transportation costs for Hawaii.

A few representatives, including House Speaker Joseph Souki, have signed onto the concurrent resolutions requesting Congress allow large ships transporting goods between Hawaii and the rest of the country be foreign built.

So far, similar efforts have gained little traction.

State Sen. Sam Slom, an Oahu Republican, has introduced resolutions seeking a full exemption from the law for several years. He is the resolution’s only sponsor in the Senate.

Few, if any, of his previous resolutions have received a hearing.

Last year, several House lawmakers introduced a resolution seeking an exemption from the requirement that the ships must be built in the United States. That didn’t get a hearing.

In addition to Souki, the House resolution has seven sponsors, including Big Island Reps. Cindy Evans and Richard Creagan. Evans also supported the House’s resolution last year.

Slom said he sees the issue gaining more interest, and he’s hopeful that Souki’s support will help.

“It’s certainly a situation that demands action because the costs of our shipping continues to increase and continues to be a burden on our local residents,” he said.

Slom said he sponsored a resolution seeking a partial, rather than full, exemption to find common ground on the issue.

Evans, D-Kohala, North Kona, said it makes sense for Hawaii to have an exemption since it is far from the mainland.

She said the law also may inhibit the transportation of liquefied natural gas since it needs large ocean vessels that may not be built in the United States.

“There are only a few places in the world that build them,” she said.

Supporters of Jones Act reform will also meet today at the state Capitol. Slom said lawmakers from Guam, Alaska and Puerto Rico will participate through teleconference.

Evans said she plans to attend.

The resolutions also request Hawaii’s congressional delegation to work with colleagues in Alaska, Guam and Puerto Rico to seek the exemptions for those states and territories.

Last year, the U.S. District Court in Honolulu dismissed a lawsuit challenging the Jones Act.

The lawsuit was the second time Honolulu attorney John Carroll had challenged the law in court.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.