Congressman Secured Language to Ensure Parity with Other Services; Crack Down on Smuggling Undocumented Individuals via Vessels; and, Protect U.S.-Flagged Vessels & Crews from Liability during Pirate Attacks
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Representative Frank A. LoBiondo (NJ-02), Ranking Member of the House Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, today praised the passage of H.R. 3619, the "Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Authorization Act of 2010" which authorizes $10.2 billion in funding for the Coast Guard in fiscal year 2011. This funding level rebukes the President's proposed budget cuts for the Service, which faced bipartisan opposition. Furthermore, the bill allows for an additional 1,500 personnel to be added to the Service's roster rather than the 1,100 personnel cut as called for by the President's proposed budget.
"From clean-up in the Gulf to protecting our ports, the men and women of the Coast Guard are constantly told to do more with less. They rightly deserve our continued support and the full resources of the federal government to help them succeed at their missions," said LoBiondo, a member of the Congressional Coast Guard Caucus. "I applaud my colleagues for recognizing the critical role the Coast Guard plays daily across the country and abroad while recognizing the need to completely reject the President's request for irresponsible and devastating cuts to the Service."
Nationally and locally in South Jersey, the availability of quality housing for Coast Guard personnel and their families has been a significant issue for the Service. Making a positive step in the right direction, the "Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Authorization Act of 2010" now enables the Service to use revenues from the sale of excess property to rehabilitate and build new service member housing.
"Although I am disappointed we could not do more to help improve housing for service members and their families, particularly those stationed at the Training Center in Cape May, the bill does make a good first step by providing a new revenue stream the Coast Guard can tap to help make some improvements," continued LoBiondo. "It is unacceptable that our service men and women and their families are forced to live in outdated, substandard and sometimes nearly dilapidated housing."
H.R. 3619 also incorporates three separate pieces of legislation previously introduced by LoBiondo.
Included in H.R. 3619 is LoBiondo's bipartisan legislation, the "Coast Guard Service Member Benefits Improvement Act" (H.R. 2901), which would eliminate discrepancies in benefits between members of the Coast Guard and members of the Armed Services. Now, Coast Guard personnel and their families will have expanded child care services, improved housing, Chaplain-led family programs, enhanced retention and medical travel reimbursement. Additionally, it authorizes two (2) new service medals for service members: a Coast Guard cross and silver star.
"The Coast Guard is unique within the military community because it is located outside of the Department of Defense, and, while these authorities have been made available to the other military services, this provision was necessary to provide the Coast Guard similar capabilities," said LoBiondo in introducing the original legislation. "This was a common sense step which will improve services to service members and their families."
Also included in H.R. 3619 is LoBiondo's efforts to provide liability relief to U.S. merchant mariners who are attacked by pirates. Modeled after his "U.S. Mariner and Vessel Protection Act" (H.R. 2984), the provision would provide civil liability protection to crewmembers who use force to defend a U.S. vessel against a pirate attack. As part of a classified Special Forces trip in September 2009, LoBiondo met with Navy Seal teams in Kenya who are currently training local forces to battle ongoing pirate attacks.
Finally, the "Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Authorization Act of 2010" would make it a crime and creates new penalties on those who fail to "heave to' or stop a vessel for the Coast Guard or other law enforcement when knowingly smuggling undocumented individuals into the country abroad vessels. This provision is modeled after LoBiondo's "Maritime Law Enforcement Improvement Act" (H.R. 1440).
Previously approved by the Senate, H.R. 3619 passed the full House on voice vote late Tuesday evening. It will now go to the President for his signature.