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Chabot Re-Introduces Legislation to Permit Delta Queen to Resume Passenger Service

U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Westwood) re-introduced bipartisan legislation on Wednesday which would allow the historic paddle-wheeled steamboat Delta Queen to resume operations as an overnight passenger vessel. U.S. Reps. Wm. Lacy Clay (D-Missouri), Brad Wenstrup (R-Cincinnati), Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky), Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee), Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), Bob Latta (R-Ohio), Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), Ed Whitfield (R-Kentucky), David McKinley (R-West Virginia), James Renacci (R-Ohio), and David Joyce (R-Ohio) joined Chabot as original co-sponsors of the legislation.

“The Delta Queen is a national treasure that belongs on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers,” said Chabot. “Now that the Delta Queen has been purchased by a group that plans to return her to passenger service, it is time for Congress to act. This legislation, which will allow the Delta Queen to resume operations as an overnight passenger vessel, enjoys strong bipartisan support, and I am cautiously optimistic it will be approved by Congress. And I think President Obama is likely to sign it into law, since he had cosponsored similar legislation when he served in the Senate.”

Chabot’s proposed legislation would restore an exemption from federal law for the Delta Queen until 2028 and open 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’s exemption for another 10 years. He also offered a Motion to Recommit on H.R. 2830, the Coast Guard Authorization Act, to amend the legislation to include a similar 10-year operating exemption.

Although Chabot’s motion failed, the exemption garnered broad bipartisan support with 173 Republicans and 22 Democrats voting for the exemption in the House and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and then-Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) cosponsoring then-Senator 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. 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.

In the 113th Congress, Chabot’s legislation to restore the exemption passed the House by a strong bipartisan vote of 280-89, garnering the support of 198 Republicans and 82 Democrats, but was not considered by the full Senate.

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.
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