The American Bar Association (ABA) House of Delegates today unanimously approved a resolution calling on the U.S. Congress to assist Puerto Rico in recovering from Hurricane Maria, reflecting a measure already approved by the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) and the New York City Bar Association (NYCBA).
NYSBA President Michael Miller and NYCBA President Roger Juan Maldonado worked in close collaboration to build support for the resolution, which asks Congress to exempt Puerto Rico from the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, better known as the Jones Act. The law causes Puerto Rico to pay higher shipping costs from the U.S. mainland for food, fuel and other basic goods, which has hampered recovery from Hurricane Maria last September.
“We are grateful for the ABA House of Delegates’ support for this vitally important measure to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis facing our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico,” said Miller. “The collaboration between the State Bar and the New York City Bar to advance this important measure is unprecedented, and I want to express special thanks to Roger Juan Maldonado for his partnership with us and his leadership on this issue.”
“We are pleased that the ABA’s House of Delegates has voted to support a Jones Act exemption for Puerto Rico,” said Maldonado. “The New York City Bar Association and its Task Force on Puerto Rico, which was created in October 2016 in response to the island’s fiscal crisis, has urged Congress to pass legislation granting this exemption, and we look forward to continuing our work with all of our partners toward that end.”
The Jones Act requires that cargo shipped between two ports within the United States be transported on vessels that meet certain registration requirements. The application of the Jones Act to shipments to Puerto Rico results in substantially increased costs to the people of Puerto Rico for their imports and causes Puerto Rico to import most goods from foreign countries, often at much greater distances, rather than from the United States.
“Relief from the Jones Act is more important than ever following the devastation of Hurricane Maria,” Maldonado said. “Thousands died from the storm, and many thousands more are struggling to put their lives and homes back together.”
“Much of the island’s power grid was destroyed, and some areas were without electricity for months,” added Miller. “Puerto Rico’s already reeling economy was decimated. And recovery has been hampered by an anachronistic and burdensome federal regulation that has made it difficult to get vitally needed food, supplies and materials to the island.”
The ABA’s House of Delegates unanimously approved the resolution Tuesday, which stems from the report and recommendations of the NYCBA. NYSBA’s House of Delegates then adopted the report in June.
The Jones Act does not apply to foreign shipments. Exemptions already exist for other U.S. territories, including the Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. The law was originally enacted to ensure that domestic ships would be available to support the U.S. military during war.
About the New York State Bar Association
The New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Since 1876, the Association has helped shape the development of law, educated and informed the legal profession and the public, and championed the rights of New Yorkers through advocacy and guidance in our communities.
About the New York City Bar Association
The mission of the New York City Bar Association, which was founded in 1870 and has 24,000 members, is to equip and mobilize the legal profession to practice with excellence, promote reform of the law, and uphold the rule of law and access to justice in support of a fair society and the public interest in our community, our nation and throughout the world. www.nycbar.org