Two members of the US House of Representatives have introduced a bipartisan bill to suspend the effects of the Jones Act on Puerto Rico for a five-year period.
Congressman Gary Palmer (a Republican representative from Alabama) and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (Democrat from New York) have teamed up across the political divide to push the bill.
A five-year moratorium would remove the requirements of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (commonly called the Jones Act) for Puerto Rico, the Caribbean island which faces huge recovery and reconstruction challenges following the damage done by Hurricane Maria in September.
Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the US with a population of 3.4 million.
Critics of the Act, which mandates that items transported by ship between US ports must be carried on American vessels with American crews, say it imposes an unnecessary economic burden on Puerto Rico.
In the aftermath of Maria, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) allowed a temporary 10-day waiver of the Act’s provisions on the island, but it proved fruitless as few foreign ships applied for the waiver and none delivered any goods.
Problems with the inland delivery of goods meant that existing Jones Act-compliant ships proved more than adequate as logjams of relief supplies piled up in the ports.
Two weeks ago, legislation calling for Puerto Rico’s permanent exemption from the Jones Act was introduced in the Senate by Republicans John McCain from Arizona and Mike Lee from Utah.