NASHVILLE, TN - U.S. Representative Jim Cooper (TN-05) announced legislation Oct. 20 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.

"In theory, anybody who travels outside the country or even across the state line with an old guitar right now would be in legal jeopardy," Cooper said. "The RELIEF Act protects guitar pickers and small businesses, and it treats them fairly."

U.S. Representatives Mary Bono Mack (CA-45) and Marsha Blackburn (TN-07) joined Cooper as original co-sponsors.

"All too often we find that the regulations coming from bureaucrats in Washington have unintended consequences on the manufacturers, dealers, and consumers of goods and services in this country," Blackburn said. "The selective and excessive enforcement of these regulations are killing jobs and striking fear into the hearts of those who may unknowingly be in violation of the law. That is why I am co-sponsoring this legislation with Congressman Cooper to provide some much needed certainty for businesses such as iconic guitar makers, their employees, and musicians who depend on these instruments for their livelihood, by ensuring the rules are fair and consistent."

The Retailers and Entertainers Lacey Implementation and Enforcement Fairness (RELIEF) Act clarifies the Lacey Act, which Congress updated in 2008 in an effort to disrupt illegal logging. Cooper did not vote for that law.

The well-intentioned law has been effective in targeting illegal logging. But it also left anyone with a product containing certain rare wood or plant materials subject to federal penalties. This encompasses everyone from musicians to dealers of antique furniture.

The RELIEF Act does three essential things:

  • Grandfathering: Any foreign wood products that a person owned before May 22, 2008 (the date the Lacey Act amendments were signed into law) will be exempt from the law.
  • Protection: If a person has any wood that violates Lacey but didn't know it, he or she will not be penalized, and the government cannot confiscate that individual property. 
  • Access: The government should compile a database of forbidden wood sources on the Internet so that everyone is fairly warned.

"I'm grateful to Rep. Cooper for all of his support," musician Vince Gill said. "Jim has always struck me as a fair man who operates with a great deal of common sense.  From the perspective of guitar players, collectors and lovers of old instruments, I wholeheartedly support this bill."

The RELIEF Act preserves punishments for those who knowingly violate the Lacey Act. It also keeps in place existing laws that seek to disrupt illegal logging practices.

The RELIEF Act does not affect ongoing cases under the Lacey Act.


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