Skip to content

By: Sarah N. Lynch of Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawmakers on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee have urged the Trump administration to conduct a scientific review of a Justice Department-backed bill to classify all illicit chemical knockoffs of the potent painkiller fentanyl in the same legal category as heroin.

The sweeping legislation may “deter valid, critical medical research aimed at responses to the opioid crisis,” the senators said in a July 10 letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar seen by Reuters on Thursday.

Lawmakers and health officials have said fentanyl, which is about 100 times more potent than morphine, has fueled the opioid overdose epidemic.

As prescribed by physicians, fentanyl is classified as a Schedule II drug, meaning it is highly addictive but has a medicinal purpose, typically to treat intense cancer pain.

But chemists primarily in China have created numerous slightly altered versions of the drug, known as “analogues,” that have hit the U.S. streets.

If the draft bill is passed by Congress, it would place all illicit fentanyl analogues in Schedule 1, along with heroin, would means that they are addictive, have no medicinal purpose and are effectively banned.

The legislation is designed to help prosecutors keep pace with criminals who churn out chemically tweaked fentanyl analogues to evade strict Schedule I regulations.

But scientific experts, including some within HHS, contend that automatically placing all analogues into Schedule 1 could stifle research to combat the opioid crisis. They argue that Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) regulations to win approval for such research are so onerous that they will deter many scientists from applying for needed waivers.

In their letter to Azar, senators said the administration had “not adequately consulted with public health agencies” about the impact of classifying all fentanyl analogues as Schedule I.

“We are concerned that the failure to engage necessary health experts vests far too much authority to a law enforcement agency,” they wrote, adding that it could also “deter valid, critical medical research.”

The letter was signed by Democratic Senators Richard Durbin, Sheldon Whitehouse, Amy Klobuchar, Christopher Coons, Mazie Hirono, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, as well as Republican Senator Mike Lee.

A spokesperson for HHS confirmed receiving the letter and said all congressional inquiries are taken seriously.

The DEA did not have any immediate comment.

The letter came after Reuters this week reported about an ongoing interagency dispute between an office within HHS and the DEA over the proposed fentanyl analog legislation.

In a June 20 closed-door briefing with Senate Judiciary Committee staffers, an official from the National Institute on Drug Abuse warned that the bill as drafted could create regulatory hurdles that will make it too hard for scientists to research possible medical benefits of fentanyl analogues.

Such benefits could include antidotes to overdoses, or the creation of pain killers without addictive properties.

Normally, the DEA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration review chemical compounds individually to assign each one a controlled substance classification, with the FDA determining if such “scheduling” decisions are scientifically valid.

The draft bill, introduced by Republican Senator Ron Johnson and Republican Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, would cut the FDA out of that process.

By: Sam Sabin of Morning Consult

In June, the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee began what it called Congress’ first examination of the competition in the tech industry. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the subcommittee’s chairman, said “four decades of weak antitrust enforcement and judicial hostility to antitrust cases” were reason enough to investigate the industry, echoing concerns from his Democratic colleagues. 

Yet many key congressional members in both parties involved with the investigation and similar legislative discussions, including those looking at data collection and privacy practices, may have more than just their legislative records at stake if these efforts bear fruit. 

Of the 145 lawmakers who sit in positions that have the power to sway negotiations on tech legislation, 33 hold tech shares through personal holdings, a spouse or a dependent child. Annual financial disclosures included in Morning Consult’s analysis were filed this year or in 2018 and represent the member’s finances from the year prior, and all figures come from the latest filings as of July 2. (The full data set can be downloaded here.)

The member of Congress with the greatest amount of money in technology stocks was Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who had at least $8.4 million in such investments through her husband, Paul Pelosi, the founder and owner of real estate and venture capital firm Financial Leasing Services. Speaker Pelosi’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

And Pelosi’s $5.25 million in Apple Inc. stock was the reason that Apple represented the largest share of tech investments among lawmakers, with $6.1 million. The companies also popular among lawmakers were Microsoft Corp., Alphabet Inc. and Inc., with investments totaling at least $1.6 million, $1.4 million and $1.2 million each.

On the House Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee, two of the panel’s 13 members have disclosed owning shares in the tech and telecommunications industries, including ranking member Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.). In his 2017 financial disclosure, the most recent available, Sensenbrenner disclosed that he owns at least $400,000 worth of stock holdings, mostly in telecommunications companies such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. 

A spokesperson from his office said the congressman holds a “diverse portfolio of investments which carry no weight in his decision-making as an elected official” and said Sensenbrenner discloses more than is required of members of Congress in his filings each year. 

Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), whose panel is crafting a federal data privacy bill, reported owning between $15,000 and $50,000 worth of Inc. shares in his 2018 financial disclosure, while Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who sits on the committee’s six-member data privacy working group, reported at least $23,000 worth of shares across five major tech companies — Alphabet Inc., Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp., Sprint Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc. — being owned by himself, his spouse and jointly together. 

Wicker’s office declined to comment. A spokesperson in Moran’s office said in a statement that the senator’s investments are made independently by a financial adviser who has full discretion over the accounts.

 Owning technology stock doesn’t necessarily mean a lawmaker is more likely to be against or for regulation. Both finance and government ethics experts say that many factors play into how investments of this nature can impact a legislator’s voting record: who exactly owns the stock, the size and timing of the investment and how relevant the investment is to the lawmaker’s congressional work.

It’s also unclear whether how more stringent regulation would move technology stocks. James Angel, an associate professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business who specializes in financial market regulation, said the share price for a major tech firm could jump if a regulator announced it was breaking the company up – meaning legislators could profit from updated antitrust rules.

“If everybody thinks it’s going to be the worst possible breakup, and it’s less than catastrophic, the stock price can go up on the announcement of some regulatory event,” he said. 

But Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, which was successful in pushing for the passage of S. 2038 in 2012 to expand financial disclosures in Congress, stock holdings by legislators can color the “entire legislative process” by providing the incentive to take action in a way that could benefit the stockholder. 

“Even if the member happens to be so virtuous that he or she isn’t really voting for their bottom line, it certainly looks that way,” he said. 

Among the legislators who disclosed owning stock in tech companies, several spokespersons told Morning Consult that the members relied on a third party to manage their holdings – which can indicate that the legislator has little to no control over where their stock investments land. 

For example, seven of the legislators who own tech stocks – Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), Greg Gianforte (R-Mt.), Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), Martha Roby (R-Ala.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) – have holdings that sit in a trust, which could be managed by a third party in an effort to remove a layer of accountability between the member and their investments. Others might rely on a run-of-the-mill portfolio manager to organize their investments.

One way to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest while still being able to participate in the public markets is to set up a qualified blind trust, an arrangement where a trustee makes financial decisions for a fund that are not disclosed to the owner. Another option is to focus on investing into mutual funds, which funnel investor money into a diversified mix of securities, such as stocks, bonds and short-term debt.

While acknowledging that a qualified blind trust would indeed prevent stock holdings from influencing the owner to act in a certain way, Holman said the problem is that external management of investment accounts alone does not remove the risk of a conflict of interest.

“By saying ‘third party,’ that’s just loose language for saying they have a person who manages their stocks, which just about anybody who manages stocks has,” he said.

Donald Sherman, deputy director at the advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said that although lawmakers’ stock investments can be a potential conflict of interest, they are a small drop in the bucket when it comes to other factors that could corrupt the lawmaking process, such as lobbying and campaign finance. 

Sherman, who was chief oversight counsel on the House Oversight and Reform Committee from 2014 to 2015, said he would have more concerns about those who take campaign contributions from companies or those who land jobs as lobbyists working for the industries they used to regulate after their government careers.

“You look at a member who owns maybe $65,000 worth of stock in Google or Facebook and that is certainly a lot of money to me — and it’s a lot of money to the average American — but the question you have to ask yourself is if this is enough money for someone to put their political career at risk,” Sherman said. “That seems like it’s not super plausible, but also it has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”

 Sherman also said the working perspective of Congress on stock investments is typically that everything is ethical so long as it’s disclosed in the publicly available financial disclosures database.

And Angel said that’s the main reason Congress’ financial disclosures are here: for constituents to come to their own conclusions.

 “The problem is that we keep electing humans to the legislature and every single human has their biases, their flaws and their baggage,” Angel said. “That’s why we rely on these systems of disclosure.”


GERMANTOWN, Wis. —  Desert Aire welcomed Peter Davidson, general counsel, U.S. Department of Commerce, to its manufacturing and headquarters facility as part of a series of fact-finding events focused on the United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement (USMCA). Davidson serves as the legal advisor to the Secretary of Commerce and is the Department’s chief legal officer.

Davidson was joined in his visit to the Desert Aire facility by Koreen Grube, director; and Rebecca Gladen, senior international trade specialist, U.S. Commercial Service Wisconsin, the trade promotion arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. Also taking part in the fact-finding visit was Loni Hagerup, chief of staff to Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., Republican representative for Wisconsin’s 5th Congressional District who serves on House Committees on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs.

“As a small manufacturer Desert Aire has leaned upon the U.S. Department of Commerce to assist us in growing our international sales beyond the domestic marketplace,” said Keith Coursin, president, Desert Aire. “We are happy to meet with Department leaders and explain in person the difficulties we face from a regulatory and resources point-of-view as we strive to continue our sales growth outside the borders of the United States.

“We hope this visit provides renewed confidence in the Department’s favorable impact on businesses throughout southeastern Wisconsin,” Coursin added.

According to background materials, the purposes of the events are to foster open discussions about the USMCA agreement, how it differs from NAFTA, and what impact it would likely have on businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The U.S. Department of Commerce states the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement will support mutually beneficial trade leading to freer markets, fairer trade, and robust economic growth in North America.

Washington, D.C.—Today Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-05) reintroduced legislation to create a U.S. Ambassador at Large for Arctic Affairs.

Rep. Sensenbrenner“At a time when Russia and China are expanding their ambitions and influence throughout the Arctic Circle, the U.S. must take diplomatic action to strengthen our role and maintain stability in this strategic region of the world. By assigning a permanent Ambassador at Large for Arctic Affairs, America can provide a check to these adversarial powers. I applaud Secretary of State Pompeo for acknowledging the importance of the region and urge my colleagues to pass this legislation as soon as possible.” 

The United States is an Arctic nation and has a geo-economic interest in the Arctic Circle. The region provides growing potential for trade, travel, research, and energy development and exploration. America currently sits on the Arctic Council, where six of the eight member nations have already established an Ambassador or Senior official for Arctic Affairs. Rather than having a centralized office, the U.S. government has more than 20 agencies conducting work in the region.

In recent years, China and Russia have begun taking action that should concern American and the other Arctic nations.  After gaining observer status on the Arctic Council in 2013, China started to expand research into natural resources and ice-breaking technology, sparking concerns over possible military installations, according to the State Department’s Annual Report to Congress. Additionally, a recent Department of Defense article highlights Russia’s efforts to unilaterally control access to parts of the region—potentially violating international law.

Reintroduction of this bill comes following Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's May 6 speech before the Arctic Council in Rovaniemi, Finland in which he expounded on America’s renewed focus on the Arctic region.

This legislation would amend the State Department Basic Authorities Act of 1956 to establish an Ambassador at Large for Arctic Affairs within the State Department to strengthen the U.S. relationship with the Arctic region and allow the U.S. to better coordinate Arctic policy among government agencies. Congressman Sensenbrenner has been pressing both the Obama and Trump administrations to create this position each Congress beginning in 2014 just before America was to start its two-year term as chair of Arctic Council. He has introduced identical bills in the 113th, 114th, and 115th Congresses.

By: Jacqui Fatka of Feedstuffs

Restructuring bankruptcy rules to make more farms eligible comes amid a continued downturn in the farm economy was highlighted during a hearing Tuesday on bankruptcy law oversight before the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on antitrust, commercial and administrative.

Rep. Antonio Delgado (D., N.Y.) urged consideration of H.R. 2336, the Family Farmer Relief Act, his legislation that would ease the process of reorganizing debt through Chapter 12 bankruptcy rules.

In his testimony, Delgado noted that farmers are currently facing a fifth year of declining net farm income. Prices are low, inputs are high and current trade policies make the future unknown. He added that 2018 marked the fourth consecutive year of rising bankruptcy rates as a proportion of the farm population.

“Last year, just 498 farms filed for Chapter 12 bankruptcy, compared to nearly 766,000 consumer filings through Chapters 7 and 13. Over the last 10 years, Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 have seen 10 million total filings, compared to just 5,039 Chapter 12 filings. It’s clear the current debt cap has rendered Chapter 12 an inaccessible tool for today’s farm families,” Delgado said.

The legislation modifies Chapter 12 bankruptcy rules to increase the debt cap for eligibility from $3.237 million to $10 million. These changes reflect the increase in land values as well as the growth over time in the average size of U.S. farming operations. “These charges will provide farmers additional options to manage the current farm economy. Lifting the cap will allow farmers to retain assets and continue farm operation,” Delgado added.

The legislation is endorsed by the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union.

Delgado introduced the Family Farmer Relief Act along with House Judiciary Committee ranking member Jim Sensenbrenner (R., Wis.), House Agriculture Committee chairman Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) and Reps. TJ Cox (D., Cal.), Kelly Armstrong (R., N.D.) and Dusty Johnson (R., S.D.). H.R. 2336 is the House's companion bill to legislation introduced by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), Ron Johnson (R., Wis.), Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), Thom Tillis (R., N.C.), Doug Jones (D., Ala.), Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) and Tina Smith (D., Minn.).

“A recent report shows that small farms in Wisconsin are closing permanently at a rate of two per day. Among the myriad of challenges these farmers face is difficulty restructuring debt under outdated laws,” Sensenbrenner said. “I’m proud to sponsor this bipartisan, bicameral legislation to modernize our bankruptcy code, which will help Wisconsin family farmers continue operating for years to come.”

“The financial choices that family farmers are faced with right now are gut-wrenching, and given the continued slump in the farm economy, this bill will give those farmers and ranchers additional options when it comes to restructuring their debt and trying to figure out a way to keep operating,” Peterson added.

Washington, D.C.—Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-05) and Congresswoman Gwen Moore (WI-04) reintroduced The Functional Gastrointestinal and Motility Disorders Research Enhancement Act. This legislation would instruct the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to expand and coordinate research and education efforts regarding Functional Gastrointestinal and Motility Disorders (FGIMD).

Rep. Sensenbrenner: “Many individuals living with functional gastrointestinal and motility disorders have few, if any, effective treatments available to them. By expanding our efforts and prioritizing FGIMD research, I’m confident that we can find meaningful ways to improve life for those living with these disorders. I’m pleased to collaborate on this bipartisan effort with Congresswoman Moore.  It is important that individuals affected by FGIMDs know that we are working hard on this important issue."

Rep. Moore: “Symptoms of functional gastrointestinal and motility disorders affect one’s quality of life, causing impairment or even life threatening situations. Few effective therapies exist, which is why I am honored to join Congressman Sensenbrenner in reintroducing this bipartisan legislation to put America’s leadership in medical innovation and research toward helping the millions affected by FGIMDs. Boosting NIH research efforts to find treatments, and eventually cures, will help improve the quality and effectiveness of care for those affected by these disorders.”

Functional gastrointestinal and motility disorders are among the most common health disorders in the general population. These conditions can affect any part of the digestive tract, including the esophagus, stomach, and the small and large intestines. FGIMDs are typically classified by symptoms related to any combination of the following: motility disturbance, visceral hypersensitivity, altered mucosal and immune function, altered gut microbiota, and altered central nervous system (CNS) processing.

Symptoms of these disorders can be disabling and, in some instances, life-threatening, and few effective therapies exist. Treatment generally focuses on management of complex symptoms over a long term. Some examples of functional gastrointestinal disorders are: dyspepsia, gastroparesis, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux disease, bowel incontinence, and cyclic vomiting syndrome. Patients with FGIMDs can suffer for years before receiving a diagnosis and only have access to few effective treatments due to a lack of proper education for physicians.

Among its provisions, the Functional Gastrointestinal and Motility Disorders Research Enhancement Act of 2019 encourages NIH: To implement the research recommendations of the National Commission on Digestive Diseases; support the establishment of 3 centers of excellence on FGIMD; educate health care providers and patients regarding treatment and care options; encourage collaboration between the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the Office of Research on Women’s Health, the Office of Rare Diseases, the National Institute of Mental Health; and direct the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to expand research efforts.

Read the full bill here.

By: Robyn Powell of Rewire News

Being able to have at least some choice in where to live, and with whom, is something most nondisabled people likely take for granted. But for people with disabilities, the legal right to do so is still relatively new—and it’s a choice many are still fighting for.

June 22 marks the 20th anniversary of Olmstead v. L.C., the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that held that the unnecessary segregation of people with disabilities into institutions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The case was brought by two women, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, who had intellectual and psychiatric disabilities and were living in a state-run institution in Georgia. Although medical professionals had determined both women were capable of living in the community, Curtis and Wilson were confined to the institution for several years.

In reaching its determination that Title II of the ADA required disabled people to be integrated into their communities to the maximum extent possible, the Supreme Court ruled states must provide community-based services when (1) such services are appropriate; (2) the individual wishes to live in the community; and (3) community-based services can be reasonably provided, taking into account the public entities’ available resources and the needs of other disabled people receiving services.

The Supreme Court explained that its ruling “reflects two evident judgments.” First, “institutional placement of persons who can handle and benefit from community settings perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life.” Second, “confinement in an institution severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals, including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement, and cultural enrichment.”

In recent years, lawmakers have interpreted Title II of the ADA to go beyond moving people with disabilities from institutions to ensuring that they can work in integrated settings, earning competitive wages. For example, in 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) entered into a groundbreaking settlement agreement with the state of Rhode Island to expand employment opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. Specifically, the DOJ asserted that segregated sheltered workshops—isolated working environments where disabled people work alongside one another, usually earning far below minimum wage—violated the ADA’s community integration mandate. As a result of this settlement agreement, Rhode Island is required to provide employment supports, such as job coaches and other training opportunities that enable people with intellectual disabilities to work in the community earning a living wage. Similar settlement agreements have been reached in other states.

Despite the improvements following the Olmstead decision, disabled people continue to be unjustifiably institutionalized. A 2013 report by the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, “Separate and Unequal: States Fail to Fulfill the Community Living Promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” found states were still failing to provide necessary services so people with disabilities could live in the community. According to the report, the number of disabled people under the age of 65 living in nursing homes has increased in recent years.

People with psychiatric disabilities also continue to be unnecessarily placed in inappropriate and segregated settings, according to the report. Indeed, research suggests prisons and jails have become “the new asylums,” as people with psychiatric disabilities are increasingly victims of the criminal justice system, which is ill-equipped to support them.

In response to the persistent institutionalization of disabled people, the Senate HELP Committee recommended that Congress amend the ADA to strengthen the law’s integration mandate and require states to provide people with disabilities real choice as to where they live and the services they receive.

Since 2015, disability activists have been urging Congress to pass the Disability Integration Act (DIA). Most recently, the DIA was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and in the House by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI). This bicameral, bipartisan legislation seeks to address the fundamental issue: Disabled people who need long-term services and supports are still forced to live in institutions and are losing their civil rights.

Although providing community-based services is the most cost-effective way to support disabled people, institutional bias remains within the Medicaid system. Specifically, while the federal government requires states to pay for institutional care, coverage of most community-based services is considered optional.

With the passage of the DIA, people who are eligible for long-term services and supports would have the right to live in the community and receive these services, rather than live in institutions. In other words, disabled people and seniors would have a legal right to decide how they receive services and supports as well as where they are provided (i.e., in the community or institutional setting). The DIA would also require states to increase affordable and accessible housing for people with disabilities and seniors.

In part because of the steadfast advocacy of ADAPT, a grassroots group of disability rights activists, support in Congress for the DIA has grown, with 227 co-sponsors in the House. Advocates are now pushing for a committee hearing.

Additionally, until June 21, the U.S. Department of Labor is soliciting public comments on Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which legally allows entities to pay people with disabilities less than minimum wages in segregated settings.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) have also introduced the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act, which would end subminimum wages for disabled people.

At the same time, President Donald Trump continues to be a threat to the livelihood of disabled people. For example, his repeated proposed budget cuts to Medicaid would result in even more people with disabilities being institutionalized, according to the Center for American Progress. Further, while Olmsteadenforcement was a priority for the Obama administration, today the DOJ is investigating and litigating 60 percent fewer civil rights cases (including disability rights cases), according to Vice News. Without such enforcement, states will be unmotivated to comply with their legal mandates. The DOJ would also be the agency in charge of enforcing the DIA, should it pass.

In the 20 years since the Supreme Court decided Olmstead, people with disabilities are increasingly enjoying opportunities to live and work in the community. Nonetheless, far too few disabled people have benefited from the promise of full community integration. It is time we recommit to guaranteeing people with disabilities have the right to live where they choose with needed supports.

By: Nick Sibilla of Institute for Justice

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved legislation that stops the Internal Revenue Service from raiding the bank accounts of small-business owners. The Clyde-Hirsch-Sowers RESPECT Act, passed as part of the Taxpayer First Act (H.R. 3151), is named after Institute for Justice clients Jeff Hirsch and Randy Sowers, two victims of the IRS’s aggressive seizures for so-called “structuring.” Through structuring laws, the IRS has routinely confiscated cash from ordinary Americans simply because they frequently deposited or withdrew cash in amounts under $10,000. And by using civil forfeiture, the IRS can keep that money without ever filing criminal charges.

The RESPECT Act was originally introduced by Reps. John Lewis (D-GA) and Doug Collins (R-GA) after Jeff and Randy testified before the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee about their experiences: Jeff had over $400,000 seized from his convenience store distribution business on Long Island while Randy, a Maryland dairy farmer, lost $29,500 to the IRS. Neither man was ever charged with a crime.

Both Jeff and Randy ultimately recovered their wrongfully taken money, but only after years of legal proceedings and high-profile media coverage—including a front-page article in The New York Times and an editorial in The Wall Street Journal.

“The IRS used civil forfeiture to take hard-earned money from innocent small-business owners,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Darpana Sheth, who heads IJ’s National Initiative to End Forfeiture Abuse. “With Congress so bitterly polarized, it’s encouraging to see hundreds of representatives stand together against this inherently abusive practice.”

The Taxpayer First Act previously passed the House by voice vote on June 10. It now heads to President Donald Trump for signature.

To rein in the IRS’ civil-forfeiture power, the Clyde-Hirsch-Sowers RESPECT Act would:

  • Limit forfeiture for currency “structuring” only when the funds in question are derived from an illegal source or used to conceal illegal activity. This would codify an IRS policy change from October 2014 prompted by lawsuits from the Institute for Justice and would prevent the agency from backtracking;
  • Allow property owners to challenge a seizure at a prompt, post-seizure hearing. Previously, property owners targeted for structuring had to wait months or even years to present their case to a judge.

Following a pathfinding petition effort by IJ, the IRS received 464 petitions from owners seeking to recover their money that had been seized for structuring. Out of 208 petitions that were within its jurisdiction, the IRS granted roughly 84 percent and returned over $9.9 million to property owners.

For the remaining 256 petitions under the Department of Justice’s jurisdiction, the IRS recommended that DOJ grant 194 of those petitions. Yet the Department only accepted 41 petitions—less than 1 in 6—and refused to return more than $22.2 million as of last summer.

“The Clyde-Hirsch-Sowers RESPECT Act is an important first step to address one type of forfeiture abuse by one federal agency,” Sheth noted. “But civil forfeitures by other agencies continue unabated. With today’s vote revealing a broad consensus, Congress should seize the opportunity to pass comprehensive reform of federal forfeiture laws and protect the constitutional rights of all Americans.”

Two forfeiture reform bills with broad, bipartisan support are currently active in Congress. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has reintroduced the DUE PROCESS Act (H.R. 2835), which would strengthen safeguards for innocent owners, including applying the reforms of the RESPECT Act to the DOJ. Similarly, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) has sponsored the FAIR Act (H.R. 1895) which would also ban federal agencies from retaining forfeiture proceeds and abolish the notorious “equitable sharing” program.

Forfeiture reform is the rare political issue that transcends party lines. The national platforms for both the Democratic and Republican Parties have endorsed forfeiture reform, as have the editorial boards for over 135 different newspapers. In February, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that state civil forfeiture cases are bound by the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “excessive fines.” And in the past five years, 33 states and the District of Columbia have enacted forfeiture reforms.


Deploying broadband is an issue that generates strong bipartisan support in our nation’s capital. In May, the entire Wisconsin congressional delegation came together seeking Federal Communications Commission action on better broadband mapping, which will lead to more efficient broadband investments.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, led the delegation in sending a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. Sen. Johnson was joined by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls; Ron Kind, D-La Crosse; Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee; Sean Duffy, R-Wausau; Mark Pocan, D-Black Earth; Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeulah; Mike Gallagher, R-Green Bay; and Bryan Steil, R-Janesville.

The Wisconsin delegation agrees that creating broadband maps using validated data and standardized methods of granular reporting will be essential to ensuring resources go to the neediest communities, and that universal service is available throughout America. In the interest of effectively allocating federal resources to unserved communities, the delegation urged the FCC to take immediate action to improve its broadband maps.

Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association members sincerely appreciate the support of the entire Wisconsin delegation on this important issue. Wisconsin needs granular and accurate broadband maps to guarantee scarce public and private sector funds are efficiently targeting our remaining unserved residents. We need the FCC to take action toward this goal as soon as possible.

Bill Esbeck, Madison, WSTA executive director

By: Liz Beaulieu of HME News

BUFFALO, N.Y. – A new bill to create a separate benefit for complex rehab that’s “less prescriptive” than previous bills will improve the chances of Congress passing it and CMS embracing it, stakeholders say.

“The general idea was to give CMS, in essence, direction, but to leave them some flexibility,” said Don Clayback, executive director of NRRTS. “Congress (works on the assumption) that CMS can take care of issues like these, with some direction.”

Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., introduced the industry’s latest attempt to create a separate benefit, H.R. 2408, on April 30. At press time, it had 14 co-sponsors.

A good example of where the bill is less prescriptive: One provision requires CMS to establish an additional designation for providing complex rehab—above and beyond the ATP—within a year and implement it within two years, but it allows the agency to work with stakeholders on specifics.

“We’ve been having some discussions around this, in general,” Clayback said, “but nothing has been decided on yet. So this language acts as a place holder.”

Stakeholders also dropped a few provisions from this version of the bill entirely, like a provision that addresses the replacement of items and a provision that addresses the ability to provide CRT to patients in skilled nursing facilities.

“We’re saving those for phase 2,” Clayback said. “We need to get a separate benefit in place, then we can pick those things back up.”

Other provisions in the bill address CMS reviewing existing and new technologies on at least a yearly basis; the agency publishing an updated list of HCPCS codes that meet the definition of CRT on a yearly basis; and providers making available at least one qualified technician for service and repairs, and notifying patients in writing of those services.

“Providers should have that and they should have to inform consumers at the time of ordering,” Clayback said.

While the industry’s No. 1 priority is passing a bill to stop competitive bidding pricing for accessoriesfor complex rehab manual wheelchairs, stakeholders encourage providers not to lose sight of this bigger picture.

“If we had a separate benefit category, it could solve a lot of our issues,” said Weesie Walker, executive director of NRRTS. “So we’re encouraging people to push both issues.”