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New Bill Would Ease Lacey Act Enforcement

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

In response to recent raids of a major guitar manufacturer by federal agents enforcing the Lacey Act amendments of 2008, Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., has introduced legislation under which musicians, instrument retailers and resellers, and others would no longer be subject to penalties for unknowingly possessing illegal woods. While the Lacey Act amendments have “been effective in targeting illegal logging” as they were intended, a press release from Cooper’s office said, they have also “left anyone with a product containing certain rare wood or plant materials subject to federal penalties.”

The Retailers and Entertainers Lacey Implementation and Enforcement Fairness (RELIEF) Act (H.R. 3210) would address this situation by exempting any plant product imported or manufactured before May 22, 2008, the date the Lacey Act amendments were signed into law. Individuals who have any wood that violates the Lacey Act amendments but do not know it would not be penalized and their property could not be confiscated. In addition, the penalty for violating the Lacey Act the first time, as it pertains to plants, would be limited to a $250 fine for all violations in a single offense as long as it was not knowingly committed. The bill also calls on the federal government to compile a database of forbidden wood sources on the Internet “so that everyone is fairly warned.” Punishments for those who knowingly violate the Lacey Act, as well as provisions that seek to disrupt illegal logging practices, would remain unchanged.

The RELIEF Act would also streamline the documentation process for importers and exporters of covered plant and wood products. Specifically, the requirement to declare the genus and species of the imported plant material on an import declaration would be limited to solid wood and items imported only for commerce. In addition, all federal agencies that implement the Lacey Act would be directed to (a) allocate sufficient amounts to implement the current and any future phases of the declaration process and (b) issue a standard certification process for all plant and plant products legally imported or manufactured after May 22, 2008.

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