New legislation will help the passenger vessel industry

The passenger vessel industry is supporting new legislation that is intended to aid the domestic passenger vessel fleet. 

For ferries, the industry wants expanded funding and new government programs. For all domestic passenger vessels, the industry is seeking changes to expand legal protection against terrorist attacks, provide a waiting period before Americans with Disabilities Act legal action begins, and extend Capital Construction Fund programs to include all domestic operations. 

Proposed aid for the ferry industry included in Washington Sen. Patty Murray’s “Ferry-TEA” bill hopefully will be added to the current renewal of the expired seven-year TEA-21 law. It would expand authorization for the Ferry Boat Discretionary Grant program from the current $38 million annually to $150 million. Priority for the grants would go to ferry systems that carry the most passengers or vehicles or provide critical access to remote destinations. The program would also provide clear authority to use grant funds to build ferry maintenance facilities. Other measures would establish a Ferry Joint Program Office in the U.S. Department of Transportation to promote ferry services, update the National Ferry Data Base, and establish a National Ferry Transportation Institute. 

Existing federal legal sanctions against terrorism acts and other violence directed at ferries is included in Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions’ proposed “Railroad Carriers and Mass Transportation Protection Act of 2005” to provide protection to all small passenger vessels. A person who attacks a ferry, its terminals, or its personnel is now subject to criminal fines and prison terms up to 20 years, with harsher punishments for more severe cases.

Encouraging compliance with ADA instead of going to court is the goal of Florida Rep. Mark Foley who is trying to add a waiting period of 90 days before a civil ADA suit can begin. When a notice to comply is delivered, the vessel owner or operator would have 90 days to correct any alleged ADA violation.

Industry is hopeful that Louisiana Rep. Jim McCrery will continue to press for the extension of the Capital Construction Fund to all passenger vessel owners operating on inland and coastal waters. This “maritime IRA” currently provides tax savings when profits are saved and invested in new vessel purchases, but for only international, non-contiguous, and Great Lakes operations.

If you support any or all of these changes, let your legislators in Washington know how they will affect you and your business.

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