The famed and historic Delta Queen is now one step closer to coming back home to Cincinnati.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved by voice vote on Thursday legislation authored by U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Westwood) to allow the notable paddle-wheeled steamboat to resume operations as an overnight passenger vessel, clearing the way for a full House of Representatives vote.
"Today's committee action is welcome news for the Delta Queen and Cincinnatians who want to see her on the Ohio River again," said Chabot. "The Delta Queen should not have lost her federal exemption in 2008, and I am thrilled the Committee supported this effort to restore the ship's exemption in a bipartisan fashion. When the legislation is brought to the House floor for a vote -- hopefully in the very near future -- I am optimistic it will receive similar bipartisan support."
Chabot's legislation, H.R. 1961, would establish a 15-year exemption from federal law for the Delta Queen that opens the door to the ship resuming overnight passenger operations.
In 1966, Congress passed the Safety of Life at Seas Act (SOLAS) -- a law that banned wooden ships from carrying 50 or more overnight passengers at sea. Although SOLAS was intended for ocean-going ships, the Delta Queen, with a steel hull and wooden superstructure, became subject to its provisions after the U.S. Coast Guard expanded the law to include boats operating on inland waterways. The Delta Queen was the only boat impacted by the expansion.
From 1968 until 2008, the Delta Queen received nine consecutive Congressional exemptions from SOLAS and continued to safely navigate the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
When the most recent exemption was set to expire in 2008, Chabot introduced legislation (H.R. 3852 in the 110th Congress) to extend the Delta Queen'sexemption for another 10 years. He also offered a Motion to Recommit on H.R. 2830, the Coast Guard Authorization Act, to amend H.R. 2830 to include a similar 10-year operating exemption.
Although Chabot's motion failed in the House, the exemption garnered wide bipartisan support with 173 Republicans and 22 Democrats voting for the exemption in the House and Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois) cosponsoring then-Sen. George Voinovich's (R-Ohio) companion legislation in the Senate.
The Delta Queen lost her exemption on November 1, 2008, making it unlawful for the ship to carry overnight passengers, and was moored in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she operates as a dockside hotel.
In an effort to get the Delta Queen moving again, Chabot has worked with the Delta Queen's management to restore the ship's statutory waiver.
The Delta Queen -- designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989 -- is a celebrated paddle-wheeled steamboat built in 1926 that carried passengers on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers for more than 60 years, with Cincinnati serving as her homeport for 37 years.