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U.S. House Soon Likely to Vote on the RELIEF Act

| July 18, 2012

The RELIEF Act (H.R. 3210), which was approved by the House Committee on Natural Resources on June 7, will likely be submitted for a full House vote very soon. This Friday will be the final day for amendments, meaning the Act could be considered as early as next week. The RELIEF Act is sponsored by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) and co-sponsored by a number of prominent Republicans, including Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX).

The Act seeks to scale back a 2008 amendment to the Lacey Act, which came under scrutiny last year when it was used by the federal government as justification to seize lumber, guitars, and files from Gibson manufacturing plants in Tennessee last August. Moreover,  Gibson’s CEO Henry Juszkiewicz, a Right on Crime signatory, could be facing prison time – a sanction that is more appropriately applied to violent criminals like murderers and rapists – for the act of importing rosewood from India for use in the manufacture of guitar frets. (The federal government argues that harvesting and exporting the rosewood is illegal under the laws of India, and these laws are to be construed against Gibson under the Lacey Act – but the Indian government appears to be disputing this claim of illegality.)

A number of significant concerns have been raised by the 2008 amendment, including due process issues concerning the imposition of foreign laws. The RELIEF Act also finds that the 2008 amendment has led to overzealous enforcement (likely a direct reference to the aforementioned raids on Gibson’s factories). Similarly, the Act finds that the 2008 amendment criminalizes behavior that is not inherently blameworthy (mere possession of illegal goods without any attending mens rea requirement) and can result in punishment that is grossly disproportionate to the (so-called) crime.

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