This was a vote on an amendment by Rep. John Mica (R-FL) blocking new federal regulation of lithium battery shipments. The amendment contained also contained a completely separate provision shielding airlines and airports from negligence lawsuits relating to their safety management systems.This amendment was offered to legislation authorizing annual funding for the Federal Aviation Administration, and limiting the ability of federal aviation and railroad workers to form unions.
In 2010, the Transportation Department had proposed stricter regulations for shipments of lithium batteries, which can catch fire during a flight. Those new regulations would have required shipments of lithium batteries by manufacturers to be subject to the same packaging and storage rules as hazardous materials.
Mica urged support for his amendment: “Safety reporting is so important and is done on a voluntary basis, and it's so important that the people who collect this data are not held liable. They're collecting the data that benefits us to make this safe. This has worked. It's kept us safe.”
Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) opposed the amendment: “…The amendment would basically create a liability shield for airlines and airports that are negligent and cause airplane crashes….It would deprive passengers and their families of the right to seek compensation for damage caused by airline crashes. The right to go to court and seek compensation for damage caused by the negligence of another person, including an airline or airport, is an intrinsic part of our law. This amendment would take that right away, and I cannot support it.
Mica also spoke in favor of his amendment’s lithium battery provision: “This is a pacemaker. This keeps your heart going. This has a lithium battery. Laptops have lithium batteries. Almost everything has lithium batteries. Leave it to the DOT [Department of Transportation] to try to put in place rules that would create stopping granny and grandpa and others that need this pacemaker from getting it. If we didn't have this provision in here, it would be a $1.1 billion impact on industry. We'd reroute the shipment of this stuff through other countries to avoid paying and going through the onerous regulations that our government would create.”
Rahall spoke in opposition to the lithium battery provision: “My last concern is about a provision in the amendment dealing with lithium batteries. The transport of lithium batteries without appropriate safety checks has been proven to present hazards that could bring down an airplane.”
The House agreed to this amendment by a vote of 251-168. All 235 Republicans present and 16 Democrats voted “yea.” 168 Democrats—including a majority of progressives—voted “nay.” As a result, the House agreed to an amendment blocking new federal safety regulation of lithium battery shipments as well as shielding airlines and airports from negligence lawsuits relating to their safety management systems.