Friday, November 4, 2011

Rules Committee Publishes Rule for Consideration of HR 2838

Yesterday afternoon the House Rules Committee met to formulate the rule for the consideration of HR 2838, the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2011. Actually, the bill to be considered on the floor will be a combination of HR 2838 and HR2840, the Commercial Vessel Discharges Reform Act of 2011, published as the Rules Committee Print of HR 2838. The rule will be a structured rule with ‘just’ eighteen amendments approved by the Committee for consideration by the House.

I don’t see anything in these amendments that would have any particular impact or influence on chemical or cyber security issues in a maritime environment. The same cannot be said for some of the amendments offered but that were not included in the Rule. Two amendments would have been of interest to the chemical facility security community in particular, one dealing with TWIC Readers and the other with small boat attacks.

TWIC Reader Amendment

An amendment offered by Ranking Member Thompson (D,MS) would have modified §70107 of 46 USC to allow recipients of port security grants from 2007 through 2009 to postpone spending monies on TWIC Readers until “one year after the date of promulgation pursuant to section 70105 of such title of final regulations relating to such readers.” This would have allowed entities to use grant funds to purchase TWIC Readers that might actually comply with the ultimate requirements for those devices.

Small Boat Attack Report

An amendment offered by Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D, CA) would have required a report to Congress by the Commandant on “the threat of, vulnerability to, and consequence of an attack of terrorism using a small vessel to attack United States vessels, ports, or maritime interests on an ongoing basis” (§612). Presumably we are talking about attacks like that made on the USS Cole during a port call in the Middle East. It’s even possible that the use of semi-submersibles as a route of attack could have been considered in the report.

Rejected En Bloc

While these two amendments seem to be reasonable topics for the floor debate on the bill they were rejected by the Committee. Part of the reason is that Ranking Member Slaughter (D,NY) bundled them with a number of other amendments to be considered en bloc. With eighteen amendments already in the rule that was just too many amendments for a structured rule. They were rejected on a straight party line vote.

To Be Considered Today on the House Floor

According to the Majority Leader’s web page, the House will ‘begin consideration’ of HR 2838 today shortly after 9:00 a.m. With the last vote scheduled for before 3:00 pm (members have to plan their flights home for the weekend) it is an open question whether or not there will be a final vote on passage today. The rule does allow at any point in the debate for Transportation Committee Chairman LoBiondo to offer the remaining amendments to be considered en bloc (bundled into a single 10 minute debate and a single vote), so it is certainly possible that the final vote of the day could be a vote on passage of this bill.

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