Lacey Act Rewrite Finds Sympathy with Lawmakers

An environmental law that has Nashville-based Gibson Guitar mired in legal trouble was up for debate Tuesday in Washington. A House subcommittee heard arguments for and against the Lacey Act.

Legislation called the RELIEF Act would rewrite the century-old law, which only recently began governing the importation of wood. Musical instruments are the concern of the bill’s sponsors, which include Rep. Jim Cooper. The Nashville Democrat says artists fear their guitars could be confiscated when they reenter the U.S. if they can’t document that all of the wood was legally harvested.

“Helping musicians like Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs is the primary impetus of our legislation.”

The Justice Department has written a memo saying it has no intention to go after antique instruments. Testifying before lawmakers, Adam Gardner – frontman of the band Guster – said Cooper’s legislation weakens protections against illegal logging.

“Lacey does not pose a threat to musicians. A number of misleading claims have been raised by RELIEF advocates that simply are not true.”

However, tough questioning from the subcommittee showed many lawmakers believe the Lacey Act does need to be changed. It passed in 2008 under a Republican administration. But the GOP chairman of a House subcommittee – John Fleming of Louisiana – questioned claims that the Lacey Act had been good for American business.

“We’re taking away livelihoods. We’re killing jobs. We’re throwing people in prison.”

Opponents of walking back the Lacey Act say the proposal is written too broadly and would relax restrictions on all kinds of imports, including pulp and paper.

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