WASHINGTON -- Prosecution of Lacey Act violations would be limited to civil penalties under a bill introduced on Thursday by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).
The bill would also remove foreign law violations as a basis for prosecution.
In the widely publicized raids of Gibson Guitar's Memphis, TN, plants last August, the guitar maker is alleged to have purchased wood from India in violation of that nation's law requiring that wood cannot be exported without being subject to a minimum level of value-added processing.
Paul's Freedom from Over-Criminalization and Unjust Seizures Act of 2012 (FOCUS Act) removes every reference to "foreign law" within the Lacey Act and substitutes the Lacey Act's criminal penalties with what Paul said he dems a "reasonable" civil penalty system.
Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Jim DeMint (R-SC), Mike Lee (R-UT) and James Risch (R-ID) are co-sponsors on this legislation.
"It is long overdue that the Lacey Act be revised to address its broad overcriminalization," Paul said. "We have seen the damage this extremely broad and vague law has done to American companies and it is time to change its language to better serve Americans and the American jobs it threatens."
Paul's press release announcing introduction of the FOCUS Act opines that numerous amendments to the the century-old Lacey Act, including most recently in 2008 to include illegally harvested woods, "have produced what today is an extremely broad and vague law that contains harsh criminal penalties. Notably, the original Lacey Act, named after Iowa Congressman John Lacey, contained a penalty 'not exceeding two hundred dollars.' There was no provision imposing jail or prison time.
"The Lacey Act now serves as a high-profile and frightening example of over-criminalization. Victims include David McNab and Abner Schoenwetter, who spent years in federal prison for "violating" invalid Honduran fishing regulations and, most recently, Henry Juszkiewicz, the Chairman and CEO of Gibson Guitar Corp., whose company was raided by armed federal agents this past August."
Introduction of the FOCUS Act was hailed by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR). The group is an arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents than 3 million businesses, and state and local chamber of commerces.
Lisa A. Rickard, president "The underlying goals of the Lacey Act, including protecting endangered species and promoting stewardship of environmental resources, can and should be upheld, and federal laws ought to give prosecutors the necessary criminal enforcement tools to pursue bad actors. But defects in the Act have led to some of the worst examples of overcriminalization. Whether the Act is used to secure jail terms against importers of Honduran lobsters because they did not package the product according to foreign law or whether it serves as the basis for repeated raids against the Gibson guitar facility for alleged violations of Indian export laws, the Act is ripe for meaningful reform."
Last October, H.R. 3210, the Retailers and Entertainers Lacey Implementation and Enforcement Fairness (RELIEF) Act, was introduced Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) "to clarify a broad federal law so that musicians, instrument retailers and resellers-among many others-would no longer be subject to penalties for unknowingly possessing illegal woods."
The RELIEF ACT was supported by a number of organizations, including the National Association of Music Merchants, the American Home Furnishings Alliance, the International Wood Products Association and the National Association of Home Builders. The bill also drew opposition from a mixed-bag coalition of groups including the Hardwood Federation, Sierra Club, World Wildlife Foundation and THe Field Museum among many others.
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