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Resolution OKed urging repeal that could help Puerto Rico

FILE - This Feb. 24, 2017, file photo, shows the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City.
FILE - This Feb. 24, 2017, file photo, shows the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City.
Rick Bowmer, Associated press

SALT LAKE CITY — The House Transportation Committee voted in favor Friday of a resolution urging Congress to repeal the Jones Act, a 1920 law that is hindering Puerto Rico's recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Murray, the sponsor of HRC11, presented it to the committee.

Wheatley described the Jones Act as an archaic law from 1920 written in response to World War I conditions that no longer exist. The law requires goods going to Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories to be transported by American-made ships flying American flags crewed by Americans.

Wheatley said most trade ships on the seas these days are from Asian countries. Before these goods can get to Puerto Rico, the ships have to unload their cargo in places like Jackson, Florida, where the cargo is then reloaded onto American ships and then shipped to Puerto Rico.

Wheatley said these extra steps cost Puerto Rico an extra $537 million annually to import its necessary goods and has contributed to the financial crisis in Puerto Rico that was raging before Hurricane Maria.

Wheatley said it has been five months since Hurricane Maria struck the island, and their hospitals are still using generators because the power grid is not reliably rebuilt yet.

"This is deplorable," Wheatley said. "They are U.S. citizens, and we haven't been able to restore power to the entire island."

Wheatley said the island is home to a population only slightly larger than that of Utah. He said if it was Utah in this situation, it would be "absolutely horrendous."

The committee unanimously approved the resolution.