Bill Protects Jones Act, Improves TWIC Process


February 2013


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American mariners had reason to celebrate in December when President Barack Obama signed the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012.


The SIU-supported law, which funds the Coast Guard through 2014, also included key provisions designed to strengthen the Jones Act and make the process of obtaining and renewing Transportation Worker Identification Credentials (TWIC) less onerous. Thanks to the new law, the jobs of American mariners will be better-protected during times of national crisis, and trips to TWIC processing offices will be reduced.


The law’s Jones Act provisions create greater transparency with the issuance of Jones Act waivers. Under the new law, the Maritime Administration must identify all actions taken to ensure U.S.-flag ships are called upon to meet national defense requirements and publish that information on the Department of Transportation’s website. The Maritime Administration is also required to report to Congress when it wants to request a waiver.


 A cornerstone of the maritime industry for more than 90 years, the Jones Act stipulates that shipments between American ports must be conducted by American mariners on American-flagged ships that also are U.S.-built and U.S.-owned. Waivers can only be issued during times of crisis when no qualified American vessels are available.


The waiver transparency provisions included in the new law, which would protect the jobs of American mariners, were created in response to bipartisan concerns over the controversial issuance of Jones Act waivers in recent years.


SIU Political and Legislative Director Brian Schoeneman said the union pushed to have those transparency provisions in the final bill.


“We’ve had too many situations where the first response to a crisis was to waive the Jones Act,” he said. “This will make it harder for an administration to waive the Jones Act without going through Congress. It adds an extra layer of security so we don’t have to worry about middle-of-the-night waivers.”


The law’s approach to Jones Act waivers was met with praise from both sides of the aisle. U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.), who both criticized the administration in the past for issuing Jones Act waivers for vessels transporting oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, applauded the new law.


“[This] will bring much-needed transparency to the process by which the Jones Act waivers are issued, including requiring the Maritime Administration to formally identify all of the actions that could be taken to enable U.S.-flagged vessels to carry the cargo for which a Jones Act waiver is sought,” Cummings said. “The Jones Act should be waived only when no U.S. vessels are capable of carrying cargo between two U.S. ports.”


Landry agreed, adding the bipartisan support garnered by the bill’s Jones Act provisions was an example of both parties working together for a common purpose, something that has become increasingly rare in Washington.


“This provision shows how government should work. Republicans and Democrats working together with industry and labor to pass a provision that will protect American jobs and put our nation on strong footing,” he said. “It will provide a playbook to the maritime industry, one they can follow to bring few Jones Act waivers and more jobs to our workers.”


When it comes to the law’s changes to the TWIC program, the new provisions are designed to make the process easier for mariners. Under the new law, the process of enrollment, activation, issuance and renewal of TWIC cards must take place during a single visit to an enrollment center. Gone will be the days of multiple trips to enrollment centers for those applying for or renewing their TWIC cards.


“Congress is recognizing what we’ve known for a long time – that the TWIC program is not working the way it’s supposed to,” Schoeneman said. “That’s really important. It was such an onerous process.”


While processing centers were abundant when the TWIC program was launched several years ago, the number of offices nationwide dwindled after the program was up and running, making it harder for some mariners to access them. Schoeneman said the SIU lobbied to streamline the TWIC process to make it less of a burden on those applying for or renewing their cards.


“A lot of guys in the Midwest were traveling hundreds of miles,” he said. It’s a good sign Congress was hearing what we’re telling them.”


The regulations implementing the TWIC changes still have to be issued.



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