U.S. Representative Frank A. LoBiondo (NJ-02), Chairman of the House Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, today applauded committee passage of H.R. 2838, the "Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Authorization Act of 2011," a three-year authorization of the Coast Guard's budget which includes a number of provisions important to South Jersey.
LoBiondo's legislation requires the Coast Guard to report to Congress on the condition of service member housing -- a significant issue for those stationed at the Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May.
"Better housing for members of the Coast Guard continues to be a high priority for me and those stationed in Cape May. While the Coast Guard has been hesitant to dedicate the necessary resources, it remains unacceptable that our service men and women and their families are forced to live in outdated, substandard and sometimes nearly dilapidated housing," said LoBiondo. "I continue to explore available options that will assist the Coast Guard in making the right choice for our service members."
Previously LoBiondo led the effort to eliminate discrepancies in benefits between members of the Coast Guard and members of the Armed Services, including in the areas of expanded child care services, improved housing, Chaplain-led family programs, enhanced retention and medical travel reimbursement.
Conscious of finding taxpayer savings and reducing redundancies wherever possible, the "Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Act of 2011" authorizes $8.49 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2012, $8.6 billion for FY 2013 and $8.7 billion for FY 2014. It would also reform Coast Guard administration while improving operations and reducing inefficiencies by consolidating reporting requirements on Coast Guard acquisitions; mandating performance milestones prior to acquisition of new assets; and, repealing out-of-date authorities deemed unnecessary by the Service.
The legislation also seeks to conform dockside examinations for commercial fishing vessels to the standards and timeframes of other sea-worthy vessels. Currently, all 35,000 commercial fishing vessels in the United States are required to be inspected by the Coast Guard by October 15, 2012 or they cannot leave the dock. The Coast Guard has publicly said that it will not be able to meet the October 2012 deadline which will mean thousands of commercial fishermen will be put out of work.
"At my direction, the Coast Guard subcommittee has fully focused on strengthening our nation's maritime sector, a critical source of jobs and economic output. In South Jersey, commercial fishing operations have long been one of the leading employers, making Cape May the second-largest port by commercial value on the East Coast. My legislation would ensure thousands of fishermen are not put out of work because of an unachievable and discriminatory regulatory timeline," continued LoBiondo.
LoBiondo's "Piracy Suppression Act of 2011" was also approved today by the full committee. Among the key provisions of the legislation are clarifying that the definition of an act of piracy in current law includes any "attempt" rather than an actual siege of a vessel; increasing the penalty for piracy to include capital punishment; expanding the existing training program to help mariners prepare and utilize acceptable means of defending themselves in the event of a pirate attack; and, requiring the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on U.S. efforts to track ransom payments and the movement of money throughout Somali piracy networks.
Additionally, LoBiondo's legislation authorizes the Secretary of Defense to seek reimbursement from foreign nations after U.S. naval or Coast Guard vessels take action to protect foreign-flagged vessels from pirate attacks. LoBiondo previously authored legislation to provide civil liability protection to U.S. merchant mariners who use force to defend a U.S. vessel against a pirate attack. Those provisions were signed into law by President Obama last fall.
"The U.S. continues to lead an international naval force in combating piracy and it has been successful in preventing attacks and rescuing hostages. However, many nations are reaping the benefits of our presence without pulling their own weight. To rectify this situation, my legislation allows the U.S. to seek reimbursement from vessel flag states for the protection they receive from the U.S. military," concluded LoBiondo.
Introduced by LoBiondo on September 2nd and approved by the full House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee this morning, the "Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Act of 2011" (H.R. 2838) and the "Piracy Suppression Act of 2011" (2839) will move on to the full House for consideration.