Hearing held on Lacey Act

On Tuesday, the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs held a legislative hearing on two bills that would amend the Lacey Act.

WASHINGTON – On Tuesday, the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs held a legislative hearing on two bills that would amend the Lacey Act, according to a release from the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee.

The two bill under consideration were the “Retailers and Entertainers Lacey Implementation and Enforcement Fairness Act,” H.R. 3210, and the “Freedom from Over-Criminalization and Unjust Seizures Act of 2012,” H.R. 4171. The two bills are otherwise known as the RELIEF Act and the FOCUS Act.

Speaking of the Lacey Act last week, National Marine Manufacturers Association President Thom Dammrich told Boating Industry, "It’s a very serious issue for any boat builder who is using imported wood in their boat. It establishes a pretty onerous regulatory regime, and, in many cases, it’s fairly unreasonable to know where the wood was forested.”

The Lacey Act was enacted in 1900 to protect native flora and fauna by prohibiting the sale or transportation of wild animals or birds killed under violation of state law. Since that time, the act has since been amended several times, including expansions to include foreign laws, fish, and the importation and sale of illegally obtained timber and other plant products.

“Changes to the Lacey Act that were rushed through in 2008 made for imperfect outcomes that put Americans in legal jeopardy," said Subcommittee Chairman John Fleming (LA-04). "Those 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 still keeping its original intent of animal and plant protection intact."

The 2008 Amendments to the Lacey Act resulted in an extensive expansion of the law to include all plants and plant products; a first time requirement to submit a declaration document for all imported plant products; and required Americans to comply with not only domestic, state and tribal laws, but also foreign laws, regulations, resolutions and decrees dealing with forestry and plants, some of which are not even available in English.

According to the Natural Resources Committee, as a consequence of these amendments, thousands of American businesses who previously had little, if any, exposure to the Lacey Act have now become part of the regulated community.

The RELIEF Act would make changes to several of the 2008 amendments. First, the bill would re-establish the “innocent owner” defense for plant and plant products facing civil forfeiture proceedings.

According to the Natural Resources Committee, despite the intentions behind the 2008 amendment that sought to reaffirm the “innocent owner” defense, the intent of the amendment failed because products in violation of the Lacey Act are still considered contraband and therefore are illegal to possess, subject to confiscation and penalty of law.

Second, the bill includes a grandfather provision exempting any plant imported into the United States prior to enactment of the 2008 amendment or any finished plant or plant product assembled and processed before that date. Third, it would modify the plant declaration requirement to apply to only solid wood and items imported only for commerce. Last, it reduces the penalty for first time violators, as it affects plants, as long as the offense was not knowingly committed.

The FOCUS Act would repeal certain provisions of the Lacey Act relating to violations of foreign laws and criminal penalties. The bill would remove language requiring compliance with relevant foreign laws, therefore limiting violations to federal, state or tribal laws. It would also eliminate provisions in the act that allow for criminal prosecutions; reduce the penalties and fines for violation; and delete language that grants federal government authorities certain powers to carry out the law including the right to carry firearms, search and seize, and make an arrest without a warrant.

These proposed changes are among those that the marine industry lobbied for at the recent American Boating Congress in Washington.

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