Panel approves bill to boost federal port oversight

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The Senate committee overseeing the nation’s infrastructure approved legislation on Thursday to boost the “transparency” of U.S. ports after a series of recent labor standoffs that threatened the flow of cargo packages. 

The legislation, S. 1298, which backers have said would create “a new level of transparency and accountability for ports,” was approved by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. 

The panel’s chairman, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), said the measure would make easier for lawmakers to spot potential problems at ports before they experience the kind of labor strife that resulted in a partial shutdown of 29 ports on the West Coast earlier this year. 

{mosads}”Businesses in South Dakota and across our country rely on dependable port operations for vital import and export necessities,” Thune said in a statement about the committee’s approval of the bill, known as the Port Performance Act.

“This bill creates a right for the public to know, and an opportunity for government officials to act, if future labor strife or any other development threatens efficient operation of maritime commerce,” he continued.

The bill would require greater tracking of ports by the Department of Transportation through its Bureau of Transportation Statistics. 

The labor strife that precipitated the introduction of the measure resulted in the partial shutdown of 29 ports on the West Coast in February; the original contract between ports and dock workers was slated to expire in July 2014. 

Despite prolonged negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, the two sides were only able to agree to temporary extensions until February’s break-though that followed President Obama sending Labor Secretary Tom Perez to California to mediate the talks. 

The long standoff led to cargo delays and ports that normally process 340 million tons of packages per year being forced to scale back operations, including a four-day closure over the President’s Day holiday weekend that riled retail groups. 

Thune said Thursday that the port transparency measure would help identify potential problems at ports before they reach critical levels like the February standoff. 

“The damage inflicted on our economy because of port labor strife needed a response to help prevent a reoccurrence,” he said. “Today, the committee resisted arguments against transparency and acted on that need.”

The legislation to boost port oversight is being sponsored by Thune and Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). 

Officials with the Senate Transportation Committee said the measure would likely be included in a potential transportation bill that is expected to be taken up by lawmakers later in the summer.  

Tags Cory Gardner Deb Fischer John Thune Lamar Alexander Port labor standoff West Coast ports
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