On September 28, 2016, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) introduced Senate Bill 3452 (“S. 3452”), titled the “Post Office Discontinuance Accountability Act of 2016.” The Bill is co-sponsored by Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. The Bill has been introduced late in the legislative session and will die if it is not passed into law by January 3, 2017. However, it can in such a case be re-introduced in the new Congress next year.
The objective of the Bill is to establish procedures governing “emergency suspensions” of Post Offices by the USPS. Under the Bill, emergency suspensions are defined to be:
Temporary discontinuance of a post office without following discontinuance procedures for the post office, because of (1) a natural disaster, (2) the early, sudden, or unexpected termination of a lease or rental agreement by the lessor when suitable alternate quarters are not immediately available in the same community, (3) lack of qualified personnel to operate the post office, (4) severe or irreparable damage to or destruction of, the post office when suitable alternate quarters are not immediately available in the community, (5) a challenge to the sanctity of the mail, or (6) a lack of adequate measures to safeguard the post office or its revenues.
It is significant that S. 3452 does not define the term “emergency suspension” to include the expiration of a long term lease at the end of its term, as such an expiration can clearly be anticipated by both the USPS and the lessor. Because the USPS has in the past attempted to establish regulations which would allow it to treat normal lease expiration as an emergency suspension, AUSPL has long argued that the term should be limited to situations which are true “emergencies,” using the plain meaning of the word. S. 3452 would clarify that question in a meaningful way for postal lessors.
The Bill would also establish a prohibition on emergency suspensions “based on the expiration of the lease or rental agreement for the post office.” Under the Bill, the USPS would be required to begin lease negotiations or normal discontinuance procedures at least than 18 months before lease expiration. If the USPS failed to begin lease negotiations when required by the Bill, the USPS would be unable to begin discontinuance procedures for three years following lease expiration. In addition, if lease negotiations are started when required by the Bill but are still ongoing 30 days prior to the lease expiration date, the Bill would require the USPS District Manager to notify the affected community of the possible disruption in service. Required information in the notice would be (1) the lease expiration date, (2) alternate services including how to request curbside delivery, (3) the nearest post offices and hours of service, and (4) the name, telephone number, and email address of an individual to contact for more information. If the lease expired, the Bill would require the District Manager to either find suitable alternate quarters within 180 days, or publish a notice of intent to initiate discontinuance procedures and initiate discontinuance procedures.