Lacey Act Battle Heats Up on the Hill
By Karen M. Koenig | 05/09/2012 1:03:00 PM
WZTV WASHINGTON — A Congressional subcommittee heard arguments yesterday for and against changes to the Lacey Act by wood industry leaders, government agency officials and musicians.
The House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs held a legislative hearing May 8 on two bills that would amend the 2008 Lacey Act: H.R. 3210, the “Retailers and Entertainers Lacey Implementation and Enforcement Fairness Act” (RELIEF Act), and H.R. 4171, the “Freedom from Over-Criminalization and Unjust Seizures Act of 2012” (FOCUS Act).
In 2008, Congress expanded the Lacey Act to include all plants and plant products. In addition, it expanded the realm of the Act to include all foreign regulations relating to plant and forestry issues.
Since then, a number of congressmen and others have come out in support of amending the Lacey Act. “The rushed changes in 2008 made for imperfect outcomes that need to be addressed,” Subcommittee Chairman John Fleming (R-LA) said in his opening remarks. “These amendments must be addressed before another person is unfairly prosecuted. This hearing is a good first step in finding ways to improve the law, while keeping its original intent of animal and plant protection intact,” he added in a separate statement.
Calling the Lacey Act “a frightening example of overcriminalization,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), sponsor of the FOCUS Act, told the subcommittee the bill aims to “alter the Lacey Act by removing all references to ‘foreign law.’” Under his proposal, the FOCUS Act would also remove criminal penalties and instead institute a civil penalty system in which violations with a market value of less than $350 would face a maximum penalty of $10,000, with more severe violations subject to penalties up $200,000.
Stating, “The FOCUS Act makes a strong ideological statement but does nothing to protect musicians or other owners of pre-2008 products,” Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) promoted the benefits of the bipartisan RELIEF Act to the subcommittee. According to Cooper, the bill would re-establish the “innocent owner” defense, include a grandfather clause for items purchased prior to May 22, 2008 and “streamline the importation of legal goods.”
Voicing his group's support for Lacey Act reform, Barry Rutenberg, chairman of the board of the National Association of Home Builders, stated, “By deeming Lacey-violative wood and plant products ‘contraband,” innocent companies are left without legal standing to challenge a government taking in court. Coupled with requirements that the U.S. government enforce an almost limitless set of foreign laws, builders, and ultimately consumers, are left at great risk.”