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Washington, D.C.—The National Taxpayers Union (NTU) today announced Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-05) ranks first on the list of House members for having the best voting record on lowering taxes and limiting government. Notably, Sensenbrenner has received this “Taxpayers’ Friend Award” every year he has been in Congress, and has ranked first on this list four times since NTU began its rankings in 1992. Each year, NTU examines every roll call vote taken in the House and Senate, then weighs them based on fiscal or regulatory impact to taxpayers.

“My record reflects I have been unwavering in my efforts to stand up for taxpayers – fighting to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly and effectively. I am proud of the recognition I have received from the National Taxpayers Union, and I thank NTU for all the work they do in bringing attention to these crucial issues,“ said Congressman Sensenbrenner“I will always keep taxpayers as my top priority and will continue to be their voice in Congress.”

“Only lawmakers with a voting record that is the best-of-the-best will earn NTU’s Taxpayers’ Friend Award,” said Pete Sepp, president of NTU. “Congressman Sensenbrenner has demonstrated a tireless commitment to supporting taxpayers’ interests in Washington, and a dedication to solving the government’s tax-and-spend problems with action rather than just words. Fixing America’s budget problems takes hard work, and Congressman Sensenbrenner has been doing that work every single day.”

You can view NTU’s full 2017 congressional scorecard here.
You can view the NTU Taxpayers’ Friend List here.
You can view NTU’s methodology here. 

Brookfield, WI—The National Narcotic Officers’ Associations’ Coalition (NNOAC), which represents 40 state narcotic officer associations and more than 60,000 law enforcement officers, announced its support of the Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues (SOFA) Act. Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI-05) and Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) have introduced companion versions of the SOFA Act in the House and Senate, respectively.

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “The SOFA Act will help empower law enforcement officers to combat the growing spread of deadly fentanyl analogues. As criminals look for new ways to circumvent our laws, we must adapt to the evolving threats in the opioid epidemic. I thank the NNOAC for their service keeping our communities safe and for their support of this important legislation.”

NNOAC President Bob Bushman: “We appreciate the leadership from Chairman Sensenbrenner and Senator Johnson on this important issue. With more than 72,000 drug poisoning deaths in 2017 alone, many of them related to the ever increasing use of fentanyl-laced heroin, this tragic epidemic will only get worse unless we put forward every tool possible to tackle it. We urge swift consideration and passage of the SOFA Act.”

Senator Ron Johnson: “The SOFA Act will give law enforcement important new tools to curb the supply of illicit fentanyl and close legal loopholes that have allowed criminal drug manufacturers and traffickers to stay one step ahead of the law. I appreciate the support of the National Narcotic Officers’ Associations’ Coalition for this important bill. I join them in urging Congressional leadership to pass the SOFA Act as soon as possible.”

You can read more about the SOFA Act here.

You can read the bill text here.

You can view the full text of the NNOAC letter below:

 

Dear Congressman Sensenbrenner,

I am writing on behalf of the National Narcotic Officers’ Associations’ Coalition (NNOAC), which represents 40 state narcotic officer associations and over 60,000 law enforcement officers, in support of your legislation, H.R. 4922, the Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues (SOFA) Act.

As you know, cases involving fentanyl have exploded, and we are seeing drug overdose deaths surge because of it. Confiscations or seizures of fentanyl have risen by nearly seven-times from 2012 to 2014, with 4,585 fentanyl confiscations in 2014. Disconcerting, because of the potency of fentanyl, fentanyl related deaths have more than doubled from 2013 to 2014. Fentanyl is now the fifth most commonly found drug in an overdose death. It is tragic to witness the devastating effect that the opioid and heroin epidemic is having on our communities. Many of us have family members or friends who have been afflicted with addiction, or sadly have overdosed.

To tackle this growing problem, we believe SOFA provides significant steps to combat and deter the fentanyl trade. By immediately rescheduling nineteen fentanyl analogues to Schedule I and making it easier for DEA to reschedule other fentanyl analogues, it will enable law enforcement to be more pro-active in responding to the opioid crisis. NNOAC appreciates that you sought to address the whack-a-mole challenge of targeting the quickly altered chemical makeup of dangerous narcotics to avoid prosecution. By empowering DEA to respond sooner with drug scheduling authority, it will make it easier to keep up with the new compounds.

The ever-changing nature of synthetic opioids have made our ability to go after those who produce, traffic, and distribute the poison that is flooding our streets ever more difficult. Tragically, every day that we continue to debate how to tackle the opioid problem, 91 more Americans have lost their lives from an overdose. With fentanyl being added to the mix, it has only exacerbated the carnage.

We appreciate the hard work that you have put in to this legislation and believe that SOFA will provide an additional valuable tool to help get this epidemic under control. Please consider us as a resource at your disposal as you move forward with this legislation and other policy initiatives.

Sincerely,
Bob Bushman
President
National Narcotic Officers’ Associations’ Coalition

By: Jessie Opoien of the Cap Times

Attorneys general from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are calling on congressional leaders to pass a Wisconsin-led effort to curb overdoses by limiting access to deadly fentanyl analogues. 

Led by Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, a Democrat, and Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, a Republican, the National Attorneys General Association sent a letter on Thursday to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urging the "swift passage" of the Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues (SOFA) Act. 

The legislation, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, both Wisconsin Republicans, would allow the Drug Enforcement Administration to classify more than a dozen fentanyl analogues as Schedule I, a classification given to drugs with no medical use and a high risk for abuse.

Fentanyl itself is a powerful, synthetic opioid painkiller that can be administered safely by doctors to patients in extreme pain. But street drug manufacturers have created variations that are becoming a fast-growing contributor to opioid-related deaths. 

The legislation would not only give Schedule I status to currently known fentanyl variations; it would also allow the DEA to immediately classify new analogues as they are created and discovered, allowing for speedier criminal prosecution. 

In a statement, Sensenbrenner said the legislation is an "essential piece of the puzzle" as lawmakers work to combat the prevalence of fentanyl and its variants.

"The scourge of addiction and overdose deaths has devastated thousands of American families, including my own," Johnson said in a statement. "The widespread introduction of fentanyl and its analogues into illicit drug markets has resulted in skyrocketing overdose rates throughout the country. The SOFA Act will give law enforcement important tools to curb the supply of illicit fentanyl and close legal loopholes that have allowed criminal drug manufactures and traffickers to stay one step ahead of the law."

In the letter signed by 52 attorneys general, the legislation is billed as a move that "unplugs the entire fentanyl machine in the first instance." 

similar bill was signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker late last year. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, deaths resulting from synthetic opioid use — generally fentanyl — increased in Wisconsin from 66 in 2010 to 288 in 2016. As national drug overdose deaths hit a record high last year, the increase was attributed in large part to synthetic opioids.

By: Steve Birr of the Daily Caller

Attorneys general from every state, as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, are uniting to push for congressional action on “vital” legislation to aid law enforcement in the fight against fentanyl.

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, a Republican, and Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, a Democrat, sent a bipartisan letter to Congress Thursday on behalf of the National Association of Attorneys General calling for “swift passage” of a bill giving the Drug Enforcement Administration power to list all current fentanyl analogues, as well as any future chemical variations that emerge, as Schedule I controlled substances.

Fentanyl analogues, or synthetic replications of the opioid painkiller with slight chemical alterations, are increasingly prevalent in drug supplies across the country, however, prosecutions often cannot move forward without the controlled substance designation.

Officials argue the Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues (SOFA) Act will close these loopholes and give federal officials the tools to proactively fight international traffickers who frequently manufacture new fentanyl analogues that spread death throughout the country.

“Combating the newest front in the crisis — fentanyl and its analogues — will require an all-hands-on-deck effort and passing the SOFA Act is an essential piece of the puzzle,” Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, sponsor of the SOFA Act in the House, said in a statement Thursday. “I’m extremely grateful to AGs Schimel and Jepsen for leading this bipartisan letter and to Senator Johnson for his efforts in the Senate. It’s imperative that Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell bring the SOFA Act up for consideration when Congress reconvenes.”

Fentanyl, a painkiller roughly 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, is blamed as the primary fuel of the current opioid epidemic ravaging the country. Only 2 milligrams of the synthetic opioid can cause an adult to suffer a fatal overdose. Fentanyl analogues vary in strength and can be up to 100 times more powerful than fentanyl.

Data released by officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on July 11 reveals the majority of opioid-linked deaths throughout the U.S. are now the result of synthetic opioids like fentanyl and its analogues. The report shows synthetic opioids killed roughly 27,000 people across the U.S. over the 12-month period ending in November 2017, up from roughly 19,413 lives in 2016 and 9,580 lives in 2015.

“The widespread introduction of fentanyl and its analogues into illicit drug markets has resulted in skyrocketing overdose rates throughout the country,” Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate, said in a statement Thursday. “The SOFA Act will give law enforcement important new tools to curb the supply of illicit fentanyl and close legal loopholes that have allowed criminal drug manufacturers and traffickers to stay one step ahead of the law.”

Drug overdoses, fueled by synthetic opioids, are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under the age of 50. Officials with the CDC estimate drug overdoses killed roughly 72,000 people across the U.S. in 2017, exceeding the annual death toll from car crashes and guns.

By: Marivic Cabural Summers of the USA Herald

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra joined a bipartisan coalition of 52 attorneys general supporting a proposed legislation to solve the ongoing opioid epidemic across the United States.

On Thursday, Becerra and his fellow attorneys general released a letter encouraging the “swift passage” of the bill called the Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues (SOFA) Act.

U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. and Sen. Ron Johnson introduced the SOFA Act to eliminate a loophole in the federal law that allows the distribution of fentanyl analogues, which have been involved in opioid overdose deaths.

“The SOFA Act will eliminate the current loophole which keeps the controlled substance scheduling system one step behind those who manufacture fentanyl analogues and then introduce these fentanyl analogues into the opioid supply,” the attorneys general wrote in their letter.

“The SOFA Act unplugs the entire fentanyl machine in the first instance by making fentanyl analogues illegal as soon as they are manufactured, which occurs most often abroad in countries without adequate controls.”

In a statement, Becerra said the “opioid crisis is a public health emergency.” He said it becomes “deadlier and more widespread” because of fentanyl analogues. Then he added that the government should prohibit the manufacture, distribution and sale of these drugs.

Furthermore, the California attorney general said the SOFA Act is critical to help combat the opioid crisis. He said the legislation will provide law enforcement with the necessary tools to keep communities safe.

Fentanyl Analogues Involved in Many Opioid Overdose Deaths

Fentanyl analogues imitate the effect of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid widely used as pain medication for late-stage cancer patients, but contain untested chemicals.

Last month, the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention reported that the number of opioid overdose deaths involving fentanyl analogues had increased significantly.

According to the agency, the number of opioid overdose deaths was 11,045 from July 2016 to June 2017. Out of that number, 2,275, or 20.6 percent, involved some type of fentanyl analogue, such as carfentanil.

By: Bill Glauber of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Attorneys general from 50 States, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico released a letter Thursday to urge "swift passage" on a opioid bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner and Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.

The bill is called the SOFA Act and is aimed at cracking down on fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be be used safely as a painkiller under proper medical care.

But recreational use can be deadly, especially with the creation of slight variations known as analogues, which fall into a legal loophole.The Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues bill toughens enforcement.

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, a Republican, and Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, a Democrat, spearheaded the bipartisan letter from the National Association of Attorneys General to Congressional leadership.

The bill shares the acronym of an organization started by Lauri Badura, of Oconomowoc, whose son Archie died of an overdose in 2014. She founded Saving Others for Archie, Inc. to raise awareness and fight the opioid epidemic.

“Heart-wrenching stories like Archie Badura’s are far too common today," Sensenbrenner, a Menomonee Falls Republican, said in a statement. "The opioid epidemic impacts everyone in some way — it doesn’t discriminate by age, race, socioeconomic status, or location."

Sensenbrenner called on House Speaker Paul Ryan of and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring the bill up when Congress reconvenes.

Schimel said passing the act "is vital to the front line law enforcement fighting the opioid epidemic every day.”

Johnson said the SOFA Act "will give law enforcement important new tools to curb the supply of illicit fentanyl and close legal loopholes that have allowed criminal drug manufacturers and traffickers to stay one step ahead of the law."

In their letter to Congress, the attorneys general write: "The SOFA Act will eliminate the current loophole which keeps the controlled substance scheduling system one step behind those who manufacture fentanyl analogues and then introduce these fentanyl analogues into the opioid supply.

"In short, the SOFA Act utilizes catch-all language which will allow the Drug Enforcement Administration to proactively schedule all newly modified fentanyl analogues and thus will assist law enforcement’s efforts on the front end. The SOFA Act unplugs the entire fentanyl machine in the first instance by making fentanyl analogues illegal as soon as they are manufactured, which occurs most often abroad in countries without adequate controls."

Brookfield, WI—Today, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel (R) and Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen (D) led the National Association of Attorneys General in sending a bipartisan letter to Congressional Leadership urging the “swift passage” of the Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues (SOFA) Act. Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI-05) has sponsored the SOFA Act in the House and Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) has sponsored the Senate companion.

Background on the SOFA Act:

Fentanyl is currently a Schedule II controlled substance and, when prescribed by a doctor, can be safely used as a painkiller for cancer patients and other individuals experiencing excruciating pain. However, outside of careful supervision, fentanyl can be lethal and, along with other synthetic opioids, is now the leading cause of opioid overdoses.

In addition, street drug manufacturers create slight variations of fentanyl known as “analogues,” which fall into a legal loophole and are frequently becoming the cause of opioid-related deaths.

To combat this new trend, Congressman Sensenbrenner and Senator Johnson have introduced versions of the SOFA Act in the House and Senate. The SOFA Act immediately adds more than a dozen known fentanyl analogues to the Schedule I list and gives the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) the authority to immediately schedule new fentanyl analogues as they are discovered.

The bill shares the acronym of an organization started by Oconomowoc, WI resident Lauri Badura, who lost her son, Archie, to an overdose in 2014. Shortly after, she founded the faith-based non-profit Saving Others for Archie, Inc. to raise awareness and fight the opioid epidemic.

During a May House Judiciary Committee hearing, the DEA Administrator testified on the need for legislation to help law enforcement combat fentanyl analogues. Dr. Timothy Westlake, a Wisconsin based emergency medical physician, also testified in support of the SOFA Act, which he later called in an op-ed the “One bill that will stop the spread of deadly fentanyl.”

Representative Sensenbrenner: “Heart-wrenching stories like Archie Badura’s are far too common today. The opioid epidemic impacts everyone in some way — it doesn’t discriminate by age, race, socioeconomic status, or location.

Combating the newest front in the crisis — fentanyl and its analogues — will require an all-hands-on-deck effort and passing the SOFA Act is an essential piece of the puzzle. I’m extremely grateful to AGs Schimel and Jepsen for leading this bipartisan letter and to Senator Johnson for his efforts in the Senate. It’s imperative that Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell bring the SOFA Act up for consideration when Congress reconvenes.”

Attorney General Schimel: “A small amount of fentanyl has the ability to cause great harm, even to unsuspecting people like children and first responders at overdose scenes. Attorneys general in all 50 states agree - passing Rep. Sensenbrenner’s and Sen. Johnson’s SOFA Act in Congress is vital to the front line law enforcement fighting the opioid epidemic every day.”

Senator Johnson: “The scourge of addiction and overdose deaths has devastated thousands of American families, including my own. The widespread introduction of fentanyl and its analogues into illicit drug markets has resulted in skyrocketing overdose rates throughout the country. The SOFA Act will give law enforcement important new tools to curb the supply of illicit fentanyl and close legal loopholes that have allowed criminal drug manufacturers and traffickers to stay one step ahead of the law. I appreciate the support of Attorney General Schimel and such a broad bipartisan collection of Attorneys General for this important bill. I join them in urging Congressional leadership to pass the SOFA Act as soon as possible.”

Resources:

You can read more about the SOFA Act here.

You can read the text of H.R. 4922 here.

You can find a list of cosponsors here.

You can read the full text of the National Association of Attorneys General letter below:

 

August 23, 2018

Dear Speaker Ryan, Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Pelosi, and Minority Leader Schumer:

We, the undersigned Attorneys General, write to express our support for swift passage of the Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues (SOFA) Act.

There is little doubt that the nation’s ongoing battle against heroin and opiates is unlike any other public health emergency. It touches all corners of our society. States and localities are on the front line of this crisis and are a large part of winning the battle from both a law enforcement and public health perspective. We are grateful for the steps that Congress has taken to assist our states, including passing the International Narcotics Trafficking Emergency Response by Detecting Incoming Contraband with Technology (INTERDICT) Act earlier this year.

Unfortunately, as states have taken measures on a local level to solve this crisis, a new front has emerged in the form of trafficking in fentanyl and fentanyl analogues. As you are probably aware, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is used to treat late-stage cancer patients. Sadly, fentanyl and its analogues have made their way onto our streets with alarming regularity and overdose deaths related to fentanyl now surpass deaths related to heroin. These troubling facts were expressed in detail recently in a May 8, 2018, hearing in the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee entitled, “Challenges and Solutions in the Opioid Abuse Crisis.”

The SOFA Act will eliminate the current loophole which keeps the controlled substance scheduling system one step behind those who manufacture fentanyl analogues and then introduce these fentanyl analogues into the opioid supply. In short, the SOFA Act utilizes catch-all language which will allow the Drug Enforcement Administration to proactively schedule all newly modified fentanyl analogues and thus will assist law enforcement’s efforts on the front end. The SOFA Act unplugs the entire fentanyl machine in the first instance by making fentanyl analogues illegal as soon as they are manufactured, which occurs most often abroad in countries without adequate controls.

While there remains much work to be done on all levels of government to address the opioid crisis, we urge Congress to act expeditiously and pass this important piece of legislation.

Very truly yours,

George Jepsen
Connecticut Attorney General 

Brad D. Schimel 
Wisconsin Attorney General 

Steve Marshall
Alabama Attorney General 

Jahna Lindemuth 
Alaska Attorney General

Mark Brnovich
Arizona Attorney General 

Leslie Rutledge 
Arkansas Attorney General 

Xavier Becerra
California Attorney General 

Cynthia H. Coffman 
Colorado Attorney General 

Matthew P. Denn
Delaware Attorney General 

Karl A. Racine 
District of Columbia Attorney General 

Pamela Jo Bondi
Florida Attorney General 

Christopher M. Carr 
Georgia Attorney General 

Russell A. Suzuki
Hawaii Attorney General 

Lawrence Wasden 
Idaho Attorney General

Lisa Madigan
Illinois Attorney General 

Curtis T. Hill, Jr. 
Indiana Attorney General 

Tom Miller
Iowa Attorney General 

Derek Schmidt 
Kansas Attorney General 

Andy Beshear
Kentucky Attorney General 

Jeff Landry 
Louisiana Attorney General 

Janet Mills
Maine Attorney General 

Brian Frosh 
Maryland Attorney General 

Maura Healey
Massachusetts Attorney General 

Bill Schuette 
Michigan Attorney General 

Lori Swanson
Minnesota Attorney General 

Jim Hood 
Mississippi Attorney General 

Josh Hawley
Missouri Attorney General 

Tim Fox 
Montana Attorney General 


Douglas Peterson
Nebraska Attorney General 

Adam Paul Laxalt 
Nevada Attorney General 

Gordon MacDonald
New Hampshire Attorney General 

Gurbir S. Grewa
New Jersey Attorney General 

Hector Balderas
New Mexico Attorney General 

Barbara D. Underwood 
New York Attorney General 

Josh Stein
North Carolina Attorney General  

Wayne Stenehjem 
North Dakota Attorney General

Mike DeWine
Ohio Attorney General

Mike Hunter 
Oklahoma Attorney General 

Ellen F. Rosenblum
Oregon Attorney General 

Josh Shapiro 
Pennsylvania Attorney General 

Wanda Vàzquez Garced
Puerto Rico Attorney General 

Peter F. Kilmartin 
Rhode Island Attorney General 

Alan Wilson
South Carolina Attorney General

Marty J. Jackley 
South Dakota Attorney General 

Herbert H. Slatery III
Tennessee Attorney General 

Ken Paxton 
Texas Attorney General 

Sean Reyes T.J. Donovan 
Utah Attorney General 

T.J. Donovan 
Vermont Attorney General 

Mark R. Herring
Virginia Attorney General 

Robert W. Ferguson 
Washington Attorney General 

Patrick Morrisey
West Virginia Attorney General 

Peter K. Michael 
Wyoming Attorney General

By: Katie Delong of FOX 6

MADISON — Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel has joined 52 other attorneys general, submitting a letter to Congress, urging the passage of legislation aimed at closing a loophole that has allowed those who traffic deadly fentanyl to stay a step ahead of law enforcement.

The legislation is called the “Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues (SOFA) Act.”

“A small amount of fentanyl has the ability to cause great harm, even to unsuspecting people like children and first responders at overdose scenes. Attorneys general in all 50 states agree — passing the SOFA Act in Congress is vital to the front line law enforcement fighting the opioid epidemic every day,” said Schimel in a news release.

Led Schimel and George Jepsen of Connecticut, the attorneys general from all 50 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico sent the letter to Congress on Thursday, Aug. 23.

The SOFA legislation was authored by Wisconsin Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner and Wisconsin U.S. Senator Ron Johnson.

“The scourge of addiction and overdose deaths has devastated thousands of American families, including my own. The widespread introduction of fentanyl and its analogues into illicit drug markets has resulted in skyrocketing overdose rates throughout the country. The SOFA Act will give law enforcement important new tools to curb the supply of illicit fentanyl and close legal loopholes that have allowed criminal drug manufacturers and traffickers to stay one step ahead of the law. I appreciate the support of Attorney General Schimel and such a broad bipartisan collection of attorneys general for this important bill. I join them in urging Congressional leadership to pass the SOFA Act as soon as possible,” said Senator Johnson in the release.

“Combating the newest front in the opioid crisis — fentanyl and its analogues — will require an all-hands-on-deck effort and passing the SOFA Act is an essential piece of the puzzle. I’m extremely grateful to Attorney General Schimel for his leadership on this effort,” said Sensenbrenner in the release.

Fentanyl is a Schedule II controlled substance, and when used as prescribed by a doctor, can be a safe painkiller. However, outside of careful supervision, fentanyl and any analogues that are manufactured illicitly, can be lethal.

According to the release, the SOFA Act would eliminate the loophole that keeps the controlled substance scheduling system one step behind those who manufacture fentanyl analogues and then introduce them into the opioid supply. The SOFA Act utilizes catch-all language which will allow the DEA to proactively schedule all newly-modified fentanyl analogues.

CLICK HERE to view the letter submitted to Congress.

By: Catherine Boudreau of Politico

Fiscal conservatives and liberal environmentalists alike thought they had a good chance this year to trim billions in farm subsidies that flow to wealthy commodity growers.

Despite years of methodical planning and lobbying, their efforts during the 2018 farm bill were thwarted by some of the very lawmakers who were thought to be aligned with their interests.

“This wasn’t a matter of being beaten. We were blocked,” Nan Swift, director of federal affairs for the National Taxpayers Union, told POLITICO. “Let’s have the fight.”

“I’m fine with losing on the floor. But to not even have a discussion is selling taxpayers short,” she added.

The coalition pushing to rein in farm subsidies is a disparate bunch: It includes libertarians seeking spending cuts, environmentalists wanting to improve water quality and free-marketers like the Heritage Foundation.

Although these strange bedfellows have long tried to limit farm payments, the coalition thought this farm bill cycle could be their moment. Not only is Congress controlled by Republicans, many of whom express a distaste for big government, but President Donald Trump also included proposals in his budgets that would cut off subsidies for farmers with high incomes.

But except for a failed vote in the House to limit government’s role in sugar policy and a Hail Mary proposal to phase out all farm subsidies, almost no public debate on subsidies took place in either chamber.

In the House, a bitter partisan divide over the GOP’s plan to impose stricter work requirements on millions of food-stamp recipients inadvertently created an environment in which both Republican and Democratic leaders helped fend off attempts to target farm subsidies.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s tight control of the floor, coupled with Agriculture Committee leaders’ bipartisan effort to thwart controversial proposals, ultimately stymied the push to overhaul subsidies, according to interviews with more than a dozen lawmakers, congressional aides and lobbying groups engaged in the farm bill fight.

It didn’t help their cause that agricultural producers’ net farm income has been cut in half in recent years because of low commodity prices. Producers are also feeling the pain from the Trump administration’s chaotic trade relationships.

Several members of the farm lobby — a powerful force representing farmers, bankers, agrochemical companies and private crop insurers — said the economic slump made lawmakers more aware of the need to maintain support in this farm bill.

Still, the coalition of subsidy reformers had high hopes for scoring some wins during the amendment process, particularly in the House, where many lawmakers in the Freedom Caucus, Republican Study Committee and environmental caucuses shared their beliefs.

Strategy to cap payments

Shortly after the House Agriculture Committee in April unveiled its farm bill, the staff of Democratic Reps. Ron Kind (Wis.) as well as Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), who represents one of the most liberal districts in the nation, joined forces with Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), a fiscal conservative and fierce gun rights advocate. They organized strategy sessions in the Capitol that included more than a dozen staff from lawmakers’ offices and outside interest groups, according to several people involved.

What emerged were at least 10 amendments narrowly targeting farm policies, the majority of which were bipartisan. Blumenauer and Texas Republican Michael Burgess co-sponsored a provision that would cap two commodity support programs — known as Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage — at 110 percent of their projected cost. The proposal passed the House during the last farm bill but was eventually stripped from the version conferenced with the Senate.

GOP Reps. Keith Rothfus (Pa.) and Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.) joined forces with Democrats Kind and Jared Polis (Colo.) on a proposal that would prohibit farmers with an adjusted gross income of $500,000 or more from being eligible for crop insurance premiums partially covered by the taxpayer. And Kind and Rothfus proposed the same means test for commodity and conservation assistance. Under current law, farmers earning more than $900,000 in income are disqualified for commodity and conservation payments, while crop insurance has no such eligibility tests.

Alignment of Republican and Democratic leadership

But the dispute over SNAP unintentionally aligned House Speaker Paul Ryan, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway and ranking member Collin Peterson in way the coalition didn’t foresee: All four helped defend the farm policy status quo.

For many House Republicans, pushing stricter work requirements for SNAP was too important an issue, said Caroline Kitchens, federal affairs manager and a policy analyst with the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank. As a result, they were willing to let slide provisions in the legislation that would make it easier for some farm operations to receive greater commodity subsidies, she said.

Ryan, who in the past has advocated for billions in cuts to farm subsidies, regularly praised the House bill for including workforce development reforms in SNAP to help close the skills gap at a time of U.S. economic growth. He barely addressed farm policy in public statements. AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Ryan, said the Speaker is proud to have followed through on a promise made in Republicans’ “Better Way” agenda, which they campaigned on in 2016.

Meanwhile, Pelosi and Peterson pushed Democrats to unanimously oppose the farm bill over the proposed changes to SNAP, which would involve stricter work requirements for about 5 to 7 million able-bodied adults and tightened eligibility.

Blumenauer — who spent several years crafting an alternative farm bill — said in an interview that Pelosi and Peterson did not want him to offer amendments to the GOP-led farm bill.

“I never got a good reason for why [we should not offer] a sugar policy reform amendment,” Blumenauer said. “What the passage of something like that could possibly do to threaten Democrat's ability to hold the line against draconian cuts to nutrition programs?”

An aide to Pelosi told POLITICO that the minority leader and Peterson wanted an overall strategy to unify Democrats by not offering amendments to the farm bill because “no amendment could improve the underlying bill that failed” on both nutrition programs and farm policy.

In the end, the House Rules Committee heeded the counsel of the Agriculture Committee by blocking nearly every farm subsidy amendment on deck, according to several congressional aides, though in total about 50 other proposals were made in order — ranging from forest restoration to rural broadband. Many described the move as surprising, though acknowledged that Rules has often deferred to the chairman responsible for the piece of legislation being considered.

The House Agriculture Committee, in a statement to POLITICO, said that it is proud of the farm bill and “the open process by which it was developed and successfully approved.”

“While some are Monday morning quarterbacking how we got the farm bill this far, the committee is laser focused on ensuring a successful conference committee and an on-time enactment of a strong, new farm bill. That’s what matters to farmers, ranchers, and rural America,” the committee said.

The one chance on the floor came after Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) offered an amendment to unravel parts the 1930s era sugar program — a complex system of price supports, production controls and import limits designed to keep the commodity price high. The votes on the issue demonstrated the complicated political interests at play when it comes to taking on the farm lobby.

Peterson — whose support of U.S. sugar policy over the years has helped him get re-elected in a Minnesota district where the sugar beet industry generates billions in economic activity — told lawmakers that he would have to resign if Foxx’s amendment passed because he couldn’t face his constituents. Conaway threatened to whip against the entire farm bill if Foxx’s proposal prevailed.

In the end, the House defeated Foxx’s amendment by a vote of 137 to 278.

Stalled in Senate

The vote to sink sugar reform in the House took the wind out of the sails of a similar push in the Senate.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) didn’t bring their sugar amendment to the floor, and members of the coalition seeking changes said there was skepticism that the legislation could clear a 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster.

Only two amendments were brought up for consideration in the Senate, and they didn’t target farm subsidies.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) and ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) worked overtime and in lock step to fend off amendments that could potentially undermine support for the farm bill.

Stabenow persuaded Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to renege on a proposal that would reduce crop insurance premium subsidies by 15 percent for farmers earning more than $1.4 million a year. Instead, language bolstering rural emergency medical services was included.

“He made the decision that he wasn't going to push on the crop insurance amendment, given other things that he cared deeply about that we were able to address,” Stabenow told reporters at the time.

Emily Hampsten, a spokeswoman for Durbin, said the senator was pursuing both proposals. “One had an objection to a vote and one ultimately did not,” she said.

Leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee have emphasized that more than 170 mostly uncontroversial proposals from Republicans and Democrats were incorporated into the legislation via various, unanimously approved managers’ packages.

That included a provision from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that would limit farms to having just one manager eligible for commodity subsidies, which are currently capped at $125,000 a year per person — and double for couples. Agriculture Committee leaders also agreed to lower the income test for receiving commodity subsidies to $700,000.

“At a time of challenge in the ag economy, farmers, ranchers, and other stakeholders need predictability and certainty,” Meghan Cline, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Committee, said. “Chairman Roberts continues to work with his House and Senate colleagues to ensure we can get a farm bill across the finish line to help provide that predictability and certainty.”

The frustration over a lack of open debate on amendments also had been simmering long before the farm bill came to the floor. During this two-year Congress, McConnell has exerted a tight grip on the Senate floor, although some blame Democratic leaders for shielding vulnerable members from tough votes.

The coalition of those looking to limit subsidies still has a chance, albeit a slim one, to press their case in conference. By the next cycle, the groups say they learned what needs to be done to get their message across.

“Conservative groups played a more sophisticated game than ever before,” Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group, and key member of the subsidy reform coalition, told POLITICO. “They put forth thoughtful, well-crafted amendments that if made in order, likely would have prevailed.”

“Still, they aren’t yet a match for the ag lobby,” he added.

Tom Sell, co-founder and principal at Combest, Sell & Associates, a lobbying firm that primarily represents ag groups, including the American Sugar Alliance, cast doubt on such efforts.

“They‘ve been pretty well organized the last four farm bills,” Sell said. “They haven’t been able to win because they don’t represent real farmers.”

By: Ryan Prete of Bloomberg Tax

Don’t expect anything from Congress—for now.

That’s what state and local tax practitioners are saying in terms of federal online sales tax legislation after the U.S. Supreme Court removed a major obstacle to when states could tax online sales.

“Congress has had decades to act in this space, and hasn’t, so I don’t expect anything different for the remainder of the 115th Congress,” Brian Kirkell, a Washington-based principal at RSM US LLP, told Bloomberg Tax.

Still, four pending tax bills are still active—three that were introduced before the high court’s June 21 ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., which tossed outQuill Corp. v. North Dakota, the court’s 1992 physical presence threshold for when states could tax remote sales. And the lawmakers behind them aren’t letting their feet off the gas.

“Montanans don’t pay sales taxes and we shouldn’t be in the business of collecting sales taxes. That’s why the Supreme Court’s recent decision has created a crisis for Montana-based businesses that rely on the internet to get by,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told Bloomberg Tax in an email.

Tester is the sponsor of the Stop Taxing Our Potential (STOP) Act (S. 3180), a bill that would undo Wayfair and prevent a state from imposing tax collection or information reporting obligations on sellers with no physical presence in a state. The STOP bill hasn’t moved or been considered in the Senate after its post-Wayfair introduction.

“The Stop Taxing Our Potential (STOP) Act will reverse this decision and defend small businesses against the crushing weight of paperwork and red tape required to collect and remit sales taxes on behalf of thousands of different tax jurisdictions,” Tester said. “Congress should have addressed this issue long before today, but I hope the Court’s decision creates a new sense of urgency that forces Congress to finally do its job and pass this law.”

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), who for several sessions of Congress has introduced a version of the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2017 (S. 976) (MFA)—which would abrogate the Quill physical presence rule and allow states to require out-of-state sellers and online vendors to collect tax on in-state sales—is also still pushing for federal action. The MFA overwhelmingly passed the Senate in 2013, but hasn’t seen action since.

“Since the ruling, Senator Enzi has been gathering additional feedback from states, businesses, and others impacted” by Wayfair, Max D’Onofrio, Enzi’s press secretary, told Bloomberg Tax.

The other two pending bills are the Remote Transactions Parity Act of 2017 (H.R. 2193) (RTPA), which would abrogate the physical presence standard and allow states to require out-of-state sellers and online vendors to collect tax on in-state sales, and the No Regulation Without Representation Act of 2017 (H.R. 2887) (NRRA), which would, in part, seek to codify Quill’s physical presence standard.

The NRRA was the focus of a July 2017 House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing, and the RTPA has received no congressional action at all.

‘Good As Dead’

Kirkell isn’t convinced that any of these bills are still active.

“The MFA and RTPA, regardless of the nuances, are as good as dead, because the whole point of these was to allow the taxation of remote sellers in a post-Quill world, which the high court has now allowed,” Kirkell said. “I think the STOP and NRRA bills will continually get introduced year after year, but we will see these fade away, too, as compliance software becomes more readily available and we adjust to post-Wayfair world.”

Alongside Enzi, co-sponsors of the MFA Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) urged Congress in a July statement not to pass legislation concerning the Wayfair ruling until feedback could be collected from states and businesses.

“We are mindful that any new sales and use tax collection requirements may present new and unanticipated challenges, especially for small businesses,” the senators said. “However, Congress should not take any legislative action until we better understand the issues facing those impacted by this ruling.”

The House Judiciary Committee heard a litany of online seller concerns during a July 24 hearing on the post-Wayfair world of state sales taxation, but it didn’t result in a clear road map for what’s ahead.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is often considered the main roadblock behind the lack of consideration for the MFA and RTPA, but he will retire at the close of 115th Congress in January.

Future Legislation

Kirkell said he expects a new wave of legislation to be introduced once the 116th Congress comes to session in January.

“I think new legislation will be focused on forcing all states to codify the recommendations of Justice Anthony Kennedy in the Wayfair decision,” Kirkell said. “But, as soon as there is federal legislation, the states will have more limited power. This is something states obviously want to avoid.”

In the Wayfair opinion, Justice Kennedy suggested a state’s law could pass constitutional muster if:

  • the state installed a threshold that recognizes a “substantial nexus,”
  • the state didn’t push for retroactive taxes, and
  • the state is a member of the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA)—a program under which sellers collect tax voluntarily and remit it to the 24 state participants, which cover the filing costs and other fees.
Amazon, eBay, Etsy Staying Quiet

E-retail giants like Amazon.com Inc, Etsy Inc, and eBay Inc. haven’t been shy with their opinions about the Wayfair ruling.

Jill Kerr, public relations manager at Amazon told Bloomberg Tax Aug. 14 the company had no further comment after Dave Fildes, director of investor relations at Amazon said the company continued to believe the sales tax issue needed to be resolved at the federal level and that the company was working with states, retailers, and Congress to get federal legislation passed, during an April 26 earnings call.

Etsy CEO Josh Silverman said in a June 21 statement that “By vacating Quill, we believe there is now a call to action for Congress to create a simple, fair federal solution for microbusinesses.”

Also on June 21, eBay released a statement urging “Congress to step in and provide clear tax rules, with a strong small business exemption, to help small businesses take advantage of the Internet to grow and create local jobs.”

Neither Etsy or eBay immediately responded to requests for comment.

What Would It Take?

With the November midterm elections looming, state and local tax practitioners argue that Congress just doesn’t have the bandwidth to take on online sales tax legislation, which takes a seat behind the debate over a national border wall, immigration reform, and balancing the national budget.

However, Craig Johnson, executive director of the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board Inc.—a group that oversees a program under which sellers collect tax voluntarily and remit it to the 24 state participants—said if states become overly aggressive with collection enforcement implementation, Congress could be triggered to act.

“Right now we are at a point where states are being very deliberately careful when enforcing their economic nexus models,” Johnson told Bloomberg Tax.

The majority in Wayfair suggested strongly that South Dakota’s economic nexus law would pass constitutional muster; the state’s model imposes the tax collection threshold at 200 separate transactions or $100,000 in in-state sales. But the court stopped short of formally declaring that South Dakota’s law, which dozens of states have mimicked already, was valid in the absence of Quill. The court just made clear that Quill was no longer part of any commerce clause test for when states may impose taxes.

The South Dakota Supreme Court on Aug. 9 sent the groundbreaking case back to the state Circuit Court, which may now conduct additional legal proceedings. One possibility is that the court will dissolve the injunction it put in place barring South Dakota from enforcing its economic nexus thresholds for remote sellers to collect and remit taxes on transactions. The Circuit Court is expected to bless the economic nexus model soon, if the state doesn’t first reach a settlement with companies in the case—Wayfair, Newegg Inc., and Overstock.com Inc.

Retroactivity as a Trigger

Johnson said that if multiple states pursue retroactive tax collection, Congress could be triggered to intervene.

“It’s hard to say just how many states would have to push for retroactivity for Congress to act, but I’m hopeful no state goes down that path,” Johnson said. “I think states are really taking notice of the recommendations of the Supreme Court.”

Kirkell agreed with Johnson and said that if states want to do everything they can to keep Congress out of the online sales tax space, then they will avoid retroactivity at all costs.

While many states are avoiding the retroactivity issue and issuing statements intended to assuage those fears, Florida is taking a different tack.

The Florida attorney general recently asserted that state attorneys can apply the result in Wayfair retroactively to defend against refund claims or otherwise win litigation challenging taxes assessed in prior years.

Wayfair controls the outcome of this matter, and there is no reason that case should not be applied retrospectively as well as prospectively,” according to an Aug. 9 state court filing signed by Attorney General Pamela Bondi and William H. Stafford III, a senior assistant attorney general.

The filing came in a case involving a refund of tobacco excise taxes and in which the tobacco distributor is arguing it never had a physical presence in the state.

Florida is the latest state to step into the retroactivity spotlight. Others have come close to pursuing the back taxes, such as Hawaii, but have backtracked pursuits after attention from state organizations and media.

Many states potentially leave the door open for retroactivity. In fact, only two of the 25 states that have enacted economic sales tax nexus models—South Dakota and Maine—include language that exclusively bars the imposition of retroactive back taxes.

Standardize Physical Presence?

The most recent bill to hit either chamber, the Stop Taxing Our Potential (STOP) Act (S. 3180), introduced by Tester after the Wayfair ruling, says a state may not impose an obligation on a seller to collect and remit sales tax unless a physical presence is established by a person’s business activities.

The STOP act nearly mirrors the language of the No Regulation Without Representation Act of 2017 (H.R. 2887) (NRRA), introduced by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.). The NRRA only differs in that it defines the word “regulate” and “tax” in relation to the law.

The bill says the term “regulate” means to impose a standard or requirement on the production, manufacture or post-sale disposal of any product sold or offered for sale in interstate commerce as a condition of sale in a state when:

MFA/RTPA: Understanding Differences

Both the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2017 (S. 976) (MFA) and the Remote Transactions Parity Act of 2017 (H.R. 2193) (RTPA) sought to kill Quill, but the bills are uniquely different.

The MFA requires that states must simplify their sales tax laws and presents them with two options for doing so.

Option one: A state must join the SSUTA.

Option two: States must meet the five following simplification mandates:

  • notify retailers in advance of any rate changes within the state;
  • designate a single state organization to handle sales tax registrations, filings, and audits;
  • establish a uniform sales tax base for use throughout the state;
  • use destination sourcing to determine sales tax rates for out-of-state purchases (example: a purchase made by a consumer in California from a retailer in Ohio is taxed at the California rate, and the sales tax collected is remitted to California to fund projects and services there); and
  • provide free software for managing sales tax compliance and hold retailers harmless for any errors that result from relying on state-provided systems and data.

The RTPA, sponsored by Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), aligns with the MFA at first glance, but includes several additional protections for sellers, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. These additions include but are not limited to: audit protection—so that sellers can’t be audited by states where they don’t have physical presence—and small seller phase-in—an exception that starts at $10 million and is phased over three years.