COAST GUARD HURRICANE RELIEF ACT OF 2005 -- (House of Representatives - December 14, 2005)
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Mr. FILNER. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume. I thank Mr. LoBiondo for moving this legislation so rapidly given the emergency circumstances.
As the chairman said, during the days and weeks after the onslaught of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Coast Guard showed what a Federal agency can do when it is prepared.
The Coast Guard, whose motto is Semper Paratus, always ready, was prepared to respond to this storm. Before levees ever broke, the Coast Guard was flying additional helicopters and extra air crews into the gulf region. Once the storm hit, their air crews and boat crews were operating 24 hours a day to save their countrymen.
The chairman and I visited the Coast Guard after the bulk of the work was done in the New Orleans area to get a briefing and to congratulate them on behalf of all the Members of the Congress for their work. And we saw their work. We saw that being prepared to respond to a disaster is not just a paper exercise to sit on the shelf when the big one occurs. Being prepared is something they do every day. They develop relationships with State and local government officials. They know who in the private sector can help provide resources to respond. They make decisions quickly so that they can implement an effective response. And as the chairman said, they saved over 33,000 lives during their response to the hurricanes.
So this bill addresses a number of Coast Guard related issues that need to be addressed very quickly. They were in H.R. 889, the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2005, when we passed the bill in the House in September. However, the conferees on this bill have been unable so far to come to a resolution on all the issues, and there are a few time-sensitive provisions that cannot wait. For example, section 3 of this bill allows the Coast Guard to temporarily extend the license and Merchant Mariner Documents for individuals whose personnel records were damaged or destroyed in the 8 feet of water that flooded the Coast Guard Record Center in New Orleans. It also allows the Coast Guard to extend the license and documents of individuals who are residents of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi since their own personal records may have been destroyed in their home or office.
Current law states that a license or Merchant Mariner Document is only valid for 5 years. Some of those documents are expiring, and the Coast Guard feels they cannot extend them without the paperwork that is in their flooded building or in the mariner's home. So this bill allows these licenses and documents to be extended to the end of February 2006.
The gentleman from Florida (Mr. Boyd) has raised this issue with me over the past week when it became apparent that the conferees were not going to complete the work on H.R. 889. And I want to thank the chairman and his staff for allowing us to work this out so quickly and to be able to assure the gentleman that his concerns have been addressed in this bill. Any mariner who is a resident of Florida may have his or her license or Merchant Mariner Document renewed if their records were in the Coast Guard's Records Office in New Orleans that was flooded.
Similarly, section 4 allows the Coast Guard to temporarily extend the certificate of inspection or certificate of compliance if the vessel is normally inspected by a Coast Guard Marine Safety Office located in Alabama, Mississippi or Louisiana.
Several hundred men and women in the Coast Guard spent so much time responding to Hurricane Katrina that they themselves were not able to use their accumulated leave before the end of the fiscal year. So this bill in section 5 allows Coast Guard personnel who were involved in this hurricane response to carry over for 90 days instead of the normal 60 days that they were allowed.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, H.R. 4508 expresses a sense of Congress that the men and women serving in the Coast Guard went above and beyond the call of duty when they responded to Hurricane Katrina and thanks them for their continued dedication and service to our Nation.
Mr. Speaker, again, I want to thank Chairman LOBIONDO and his staff for working so closely with our staff to get this out quickly. I urge my colleagues to voice their support for H.R. 4508.
Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.
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