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Amendments and Revisions of the Jones Act

March 17, 2023

The Jones Act is a federal law that protects the rights of maritime workers who are injured or killed on the job. It was passed in 1920 as part of the Merchant Marine Act, which aimed to promote and regulate the U.S. maritime industry. The Jones Act allows injured maritime workers to sue their employers for negligence and recover damages for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. It also requires that vessels engaged in domestic trade be owned, built, and crewed by U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Understanding the Jones Act can help maritime workers learn what to expect from their employers regarding safety standards, maintenance obligations, and compensation options. However, the Jones Act is not static; it has been amended and revised several times since its inception and has faced criticism and support from various stakeholders.

The Garamendi Amendment

The Garamendi amendment is a provision that was passed by the U.S. Congress in December 2020 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the fiscal year 2021. The amendment ensures full enforcement of the Jones Act and other federal laws in offshore wind development. The Jones Act is a 1920 law that protects injured workers offshore by requiring that vessels transporting goods between U.S. ports be owned, built, and crewed by U.S. citizens or permanent residents. The Garamendi amendment clarifies that the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, a 1953 law governing offshore mineral and energy development, also applies to lease sales for non-fossil fuel sources such as wind power. This means offshore wind projects must comply with federal labor, environmental, and antitrust regulations and use U.S.-flagged vessels and U.S. workers. The Garamendi Amendment expands on the Jones Act’s original protections for maritime workers who are injured offshore by ensuring that they have access to fair compensation and legal recourse under U.S. law when working on renewable energy projects.

Proposed Legislation Related to Jones Act Shipping

The Jones Act is a federal law that regulates maritime commerce in the United States. It requires that goods shipped between U.S. ports be carried by vessels built, owned, and operated by U.S. citizens or permanent residents. The Jones Act has been in effect since 1920 and has been subject to various debates and controversies over its impact on the U.S. economy, national security, and environment. Several pieces of legislation have been proposed to alter the Jones Act differently in recent years. Some proposals aim to reform or repeal the Jones Act, while others seek to modify or expand its scope and exemptions.

The Noncontiguous Shipping Relief Act of 2021

The Noncontiguous Shipping Relief Act of 2021 (H.R. 300) is a bill that was introduced in the House of Representatives on January 13, 2021 by Rep. Ed Case (D-HI). The bill aims to amend Title 46 of the United States Code, which contains the coastwise laws commonly known as the Jones Act. The Jones Act requires that vessels transporting merchandise or passengers between Puerto Rico and other U.S. ports be built in the United States, be at least 75% owned and crewed by U.S. citizens, and be registered under the U.S. flag. The bill would allow transportation of merchandise in noncontiguous trade (i.e., between Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, and other U.S. territories) on foreign-flag vessels that meet specific safety standards. The bill’s sponsor argues that this would lower shipping costs and consumer prices for these regions, which currently face higher transportation costs due to the limited availability of U.S. flag vessels.

The Noncontiguous Shipping Reasonable Rate Act of 2021

The Noncontiguous Shipping Reasonable Rate Act of 2021 is a proposed legislative bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on January 13, 2021, by Representative Ed Case (D-HI). The bill aims to lower the cost of shipping goods between the U.S. mainland and noncontiguous states and territories such as Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and Guam. This bill would amend the Jones Act, which requires all goods shipped between U.S. ports to be carried by U.S. flagged vessels owned and operated by U.S. citizens or permanent residents. The bill would provide that a shipping rate for service in noncontiguous domestic ocean trade is reasonable if it is within 10% of a comparable international rate index recognized by the Federal Maritime Commission. The bill would also require the commission to monitor and report on the rates and practices of carriers in noncontiguous trade. If enacted, the bill would potentially reduce the shipping costs for consumers and businesses in noncontiguous regions that rely on imported goods from the mainland.

The Noncontiguous Shipping Competition Act

The Noncontiguous Shipping Competition Act is another bill introduced by Rep. Ed Case (D-HI) in the U.S. House of Representatives on January 13, 2021. The bill aims to reduce the cost of shipping goods and passengers between noncontiguous U.S. states and territories, such as Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and Guam. The bill would amend the Jones Act, which requires vessels transporting merchandise or passengers between U.S. ports to be built, owned and operated by U.S. citizens or companies. The bill would exempt noncontiguous trade from these requirements and allow foreign-flagged vessels to compete with domestic ones. Supporters of the Bill urge that this would lower shipping costs, increase consumer choice and stimulate economic growth. However, the bill’s opponents contend it would undermine national security, maritime safety and environmental standards.

Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2022

The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2022 is a bill that authorizes appropriations through 2023 for the U.S. Coast Guard and the Federal Maritime Commission. The bill was proposed in September 2022 by a bipartisan group of senators and representatives to support the Coast Guard’s personnel, operations, infrastructure, and environmental compliance. The bill would also change the Jones Act, allowing foreign-built vessels to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) between U.S. ports if no suitable U.S.-built vessels are available.

Efforts to Repeal the Jones Act

The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a federal law that regulates maritime commerce in the United States. The act requires that all goods shipped between U.S. ports be carried by U.S. flagged vessels built, owned and operated by U.S. citizens or permanent residents. However, the Jones Act has faced opposition and criticism over the years. Some common criticisms against the law are that it is outdated, anti-competitive, costly and detrimental to national security.

Open America’s Waters Act

Open America’s Waters Act is a bill that aims to repeal the Jones Act, which limits the types of vessels that can engage in domestic trade between U.S. ports. The bill was introduced by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Representative Tom McClintock (R-CA) in 2021. Some of the intended benefits of the bill are to lower shipping costs, increase competition, and promote free trade. Some possible risks are reduced national security, harm to the domestic shipbuilding industry, and endangering maritime safety.

How Does the Jones Act Currently Apply to Maritime Workers?

As stated throughout this article, The Jones Act is a federal law that gives qualified maritime workers (such as seamen, fishermen, and offshore oil rig workers) the right to sue their employer for injuries suffered on the job. The Jones Act applies to workers who spend at least 30% of their work time on navigable waters and contribute to vessel work. The act allows injured workers to receive compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and punitive damages if their employer is found guilty of negligence or unseaworthiness. The Jones Act is an essential protection for maritime workers who face many hazards and risks.

Maritime law is a complex area that governs the rights and obligations of people who work on or near navigable waters. One of the most important aspects of maritime law is the Jones Act, which allows certain maritime workers, known as seamen or crew members, to sue their employers for injuries caused by negligence or unseaworthiness of a vessel. However, not every maritime worker qualifies as a seaman under the Jones Act. To be considered a seaman, a worker must have a substantial connection to a vessel or fleet of vessels in terms of the duration and nature of their work. Workers who perform only occasional or incidental duties on board a ship may not be eligible for Jones Act protection.

As some may already be aware, filing a claim under the Jones Act can be complex and challenging, as it requires carefully scrutinizing the entire claim and proving negligence and causation of injury. Therefore, finding a top-rated Houston Jones Act lawyer who understands the Jones Act and has experience filing claims is crucial for seamen who want fair compensation for their injuries. A lawyer specializing in Jones Act cases can help seamen navigate the legal process, gather evidence, negotiate with insurance companies, and represent them in court if necessary.

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