Under the umbrella of the oil spill circus, one of the areas getting enormous amounts of attention is the Jones Act. Unfortunately most of that attention and discussion is based on politics from both sides of the aisle. Facts are being tossed completely out of the window.
The Jones Act is being criticized as protectionist, but that is what laws are supposed to be. And whom is it supposed to protect? One protection is to the seamen employed aboard the vessels in our system, and the other to our country in the form of security. The Jones Act is the greatest Homeland Security system ever put in place, and it requires virtually no monitoring by any government agency. It basically requires that all vessels working in US waters are owned and manned by US citizens.
To the Seaman, it provides the greatest Health Care system in the world. The vessel is responsible to pay for ANY type of injury or illness which may befall seamen, from the common cold to a heart attack, and it provides a daily stipend until the seaman is able to return to work. If an incident causes death, payments to their survivors are many times that of your land based workers comp system. If there is a determination of negligence, the awards are again multiplied much higher than land based employees. Again, much better than the Healthcare plan. One hundred percent coverage, with much larger dollars than workers comp. Not a bad system.
However there are two of our legislators who are wanting to make changes, with one wanting to broaden the provisions and the other trying to restrict it. This is usually a sign that a rule or law is just about right. In the middle.
In the Morning Advocate on Tuesday, July 13, it was reported that Congressman Charlie Melancon is trying to change the Jones Act to expand the reasons for which seamen or their dependants can collect damages and do away with any type of limitation, a process where the liability for a claim is limited to the value of the vessel. The Deepwater Horrizon was only worth $500 million dollars, and the oil spill cost can not be included in the limitation, so one has to wonder how much is enough. Anyone who has ever been involved in an auto accident will question how is it that claimants can come up with so many ways to try and collect off of an incident. It is because our lawmakers allow these things to expand.
At the same time in the Time Picayune it was reported that the same Congressman Charlie Melancon attended a fundraiser in Vancouver, BC, put on by the Trial Lawyers, or Plantiff’s Attorneys of this country. It is not too difficult to figure out that when an injured seaman is represented by a Plantiff’s Attorney and he has to pay that attorney over 40%, of the amount that a claimant receives for an incident, the standard payment for representation, any expansion of the potential benefits is a huge win for those same attorneys who held the fundraiser for the congressman. Wonder why the proposed change in the law?
The Jones Act also protects our nation from foreign vessels having free rein of our inland waterway system which runs through 38 states. Vessels in this system must be owned by US citizens. What is wrong with that? Imagine the problem of trying to monitor foreign vessels with thousands of barges running around through the heart of the country. Who is going to watch this? The Coast Guard? Customs? Immigration? They can’t even watch over the limited access to our country now, much less adding another 12,000 miles of waterways or over 24,000 miles of river bank.
Senator McCain is wanting that, while his own state has a problem with the Federal government’s inability to control non-citizens in this country. He is complaining that the act protects the US maritime industry from competition and should be eliminated to save the American farmer $650 billion. That would be over $1000 per ton saving on every ton of cargo moved on the Mississippi River each year. That is impossible, Senator McCain, your numbers are way off. There is criticism that the Jones Act has kept foreign vessels from assisting in the spill. Bunk! At least 20 of the 50 vessels you see hovering around the Deepwater Horizon site are foreign vessels. The Jones Act ONLY affects vessels inside of 3 miles of the coast line, or those carrying cargo from port to port. There is a process, which has been used, to allow these vessels to participate, and if there have been delays getting these vessels involved, it is not the Jones Act causing the problem, but politics.
While we may have an idea of what is driving Congressman Melancon, who knows what is driving Senator McCain? However, now is not the time to allow politicians to make headline grabbing changes to our well established system of laws . If there were problems with the Jones Act before the oil spill then these guys should have been doing their homework and figuring out a way to correct it so it wouldn’t be a problem now. But that would require them to do their job.
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