James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023

Floor Speech

Date: Dec. 8, 2022
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CARSON. Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in support of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). In addition to critical resources for our defense programs and our service members, this bill also includes two critical bills from the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Don Young Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2022, and the Water Resources Development Act of 2022. This bill also includes the Intelligence Authorization Act, including my new requirements to address the threat of hypersonic weapons.

The underlying bill also includes my amendment authorizing an increase in funding to fight pancreatic cancer, which sadly claimed the lives of our beloved colleagues John Lewis and Alcee Hastings. The $5 million dollar increase will help develop better and earlier detection of pancreatic cancer, which will help save lives.

Another provision included in this bill is my amendment to the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act, which improves access to benefits, and provides injured firefighters or their families more time to file documentation for assistance claims.

These are all important provisions, but I'd like to take a few moments now to highlight the long-overdue changes to safety requirements for passenger vessels.

The Coast Guard Reauthorization Act will increase maritime safety and efficiency, including my Duck Boat Safety Improvement Act, which is now Section 11502 in the NDAA. I am especially grateful to Chairman DeFazio for working with me over several years to develop this language, which will finally address the persistent problems with unsafe vessels, and including my Duck Boat Safety Improvement Act in today's NDAA.

My Duck Boat Safety requirements will finally implement safety regulations for amphibious passenger vessels, particularly those known as Duck Boats. These safety recommendations were made by federal agencies to address repeated problems associated with Duck Boats that have resulted in far too many injuries and fatalities that may have been prevented.

I learned about these problems when my constituents in Indianapolis, the Coleman family, were involved in a horrible Duck Boat accident on July 19, 2018 in Branson, Missouri. Tia Coleman was one of only two survivors from her family of 11, losing her husband Glenn, and her children Reece (nine years old), Evan (seven years old), and Arya (one year old). Tia's 13-year-old nephew, Donovan Coleman, was the other surviving family member, losing his mother Angela, his younger brother Maxwell (two years old), his uncles Ervin (76 years old) and Butch (70 years old), and his aunt Belinda (69 years old). Boarding a Duck Boat on Table Rock Lake started out as a fun outing for family members, but it turned into an unspeakable tragedy when the boat capsized and sank. Seventeen of the 31 passengers on board were killed.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and U.S. Coast Guard have separately investigated the incident and Congress must act now. We know from past incidents that more can and should be done to make these vessels safer. Since 1999, more than 40 people have died in Duck Boats accidents, the vast majority of them from drowning when the vessel sinks. In 2002, the NTSB issued recommendations to improve the safety of these vessels in flooding or sinking situations, but little has been done to implement those measures--until today.

Duck Boats are hybrid vehicles that can travel on roadways and waterways, so the safety measures must be updated for both land and waterborne operations.

The Duck Boat Safety Improvement Act will require vessel operators to implement common-sense boating safety measures, including:

Improving reserve buoyancy and watertight compartmentalization to prevent sinking,

Requiring more monitoring and adherence to severe weather alerts and warnings,

Requiring release of road safety seatbelts when Duck Boats become waterborne,

Requiring stronger crew safety training and certification,

Removing or reconfigure canopies and window coverings for waterborne operations,

Requiring personal flotation devices for waterborne operations,

Requiring installation of better bilge pumps and alarms,

Installing underwater LED lights that activate automatically in emergencies, and

Complying with other Coast Guard boating safety requirements.

These changes will help save lives and prevent future tragedies.

I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting today's bill to make common-sense corrections to the persistent safety problems facing Duck Boats. If we act today, we can help ensure that no other family has to suffer the kind of tragedy faced by my constituents on Table Rock Lake.

I urge the House to support these safety provisions, and all of the reauthorizations in this year's NDAA.