GOP plans vote to ease Lacey Act rules which led to raid on Gibson Guitar

House Republicans are preparing to move a bill that would scale back requirements of the Lacey Act, which was amended in 2008 to impose significant hurdles to the importation and sale of goods made with illegally harvested timber and other plants.

Consideration of the bill will take place about a year after federal agents raided the Gibson Guitar company of Tennessee, which officials suspected of using illegally harvested wood in violation of the Lacey Act amendments.

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The lead sponsor of the Retailers and Entertainers Lacey Implementation and Enforcement Fairness Act (RELIEF), H.R. 3210, Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper, is from Tennessee, although the bill is mostly supported by House Republicans. The legislation finds that the 2008 amendments — which included plant protection in the Endangered Species Act for the first time — were overly broad, and are leading to an overly aggressive enforcement campaign by the federal government.

"Federal law enforcement officials should not engage in overzealous enforcement action under the 2008 amendments," the bill says in its findings section.

Supporters of the bill argue that the Lacey Act amendments can be used to impose fines against people who own goods made with illegally harvested materials, even though they might not know the origin themselves. They also argue that the Lacey Act should not be used to impose penalties against products made before May 2008, when the changes took place.

"Sanctions for violating the 2008 amendments should be proportional to the act in violation," the bill reads. "An individual who is not in the commercial shipping business should not be held to the same standards of compliance under that Act.

"Individuals fear that they risk incurring those penalties by merely owning or traveling with a vintage musical instrument, antique furniture, or another wood product."

Accordingly, the bill would change the law to eliminate the current need for declarations about the origins of plant materials in goods made before May 2008. It would also hold that the Lacey Act changes do not apply to goods made or imported into the United States before that date.

The RELIEF Act was approved by the House Natural Resources Committee in early June, by a mostly party-line vote. That vote is a sign that many Democrats will likely oppose the bill on the floor and argue that the current, tougher rules related to enforcement should not be repealed.

The House Rules Committee set an amendment deadline of this Friday for the bill, indicating the House could take up the bill next week.

The raid on Gibson Guitar, the company known for its iconic Les Paul guitar, in 2011 became a rallying cry for conservative groups who painted the Lacey Act as an example of government overreach and the corporation as a victim of burdensome regulations. CEO Henry Juskiewicz was invited sit with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) during an Obama address to Congress in September.