Bill to OK Overnight Stays on Steamboat Should Sail Through Congress: Aide

A bill to allow the last steamboat in America that offers overnight stays shouldn’t have a hard time getting to the president’s desk, a spokesman for the bill’s author told Bloomberg BNA.

The Delta Queen, a National Historic Landmark, has had a hard time turning a profit since 2008 when a Congressional exemption from a fire-hazard vessel-safety code that prohibits wooden cruise ships from housing overnight passengers expired.

The Delta Queen appears similar to the Queen of the Mississppi, pictured above

[The Delta Queen appears similar to the Queen of the Mississippi, pictured above right.]

The 1966 Safety at Sea Act wasn’t meant to apply to inland waterway vessels like the Delta Queen, the bill’s proponents have argued. People can much more easily be rescued from a burning boat in the Mississippi River and its tributaries, where the Delta Queen has typically operated, than in the middle of the ocean, they said.

A version of H.R. 619 (S. 89) passed the Senate in January, sponsored by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). But H.R. 619 is still before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. A bill was proposed in 2013 as well, which handily passed the House. But safety concerns sunk it in the Senate.

The outcome should be different this time though, because whereas the bill failed to pass in the 113th Congress due to those safety concerns, a lot of effort was put into getting both the House and Senate bills on the same page before they were introduced for the 115th session, Brian Griffith, spokesman for H.R. 619 sponsor Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) told Bloomberg BNA.

During the 113th Congress, “In the Senate, they added some additional safety precautions about transitioning the haul over from wood to steel,” Griffith said. But this time, “When we worked on it, we were trying to mirror the Senate bill.”

The bill would allow the ship to harbor overnight passengers if the ship owners, Delta Queen Steamboat Company INC, finish shoring up certain parts of the boat with materials less likely to catch fire and do yearly maintenance to strengthen the vessel’s fire-resistance.

Mirror, Mirror, on the Haul

The benefits for having identical legislation are twofold.

Provided the House doesn’t make any changes to the bill adopted in the Senate, there are no differences to reconcile between the Senate version and the House versions of the bill. This means lawmakers from both chambers won’t have to meet to conference on the bill.

Additionally, because the bills are identical, the House speaker could call the Senate bill up for a vote on the House floor, bypassing the need for the House bill to make its way through the typical subcommittee and committee voting process, which can further delay a final vote on bills.

It’s possible that the bill could be voted on under House suspension rules, Griffith said.

Bills considered under House suspension rules receive limited floor debate and require a two-third vote for passage. Bills considered under suspension rules are usually noncontroversial measures, given the higher threshold for vote passage.”

Griffith was clear that he didn’t have final details on when the bill would see its next House consideration, given the busy calendar when lawmakers go back to work next week, but the measure’s proprietors are remaining positive.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that it’ll move pretty quickly through the House,” when time permits, he said.

The ship is currently undergoing renovations and improvements in Houma, La.