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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner released the following statement on the dubious meeting between Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton:

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “Lynch described her highly unorthodox meeting with Bill Clinton as ‘primarily social.’  As someone with a long history investigating Bill Clinton, I know that almost everything he does is “primarily social,” but with Clinton, you always have to wonder, ‘what were his ulterior motives?’  

“Bill Clinton should not be soliciting a conversation with the Attorney General while her Department is investigating his wife.  And the Attorney General should not be engaging him in conversation.  What did they talk about?  We’ll likely never know for sure, but this is precisely why prosecutors must avoid even an appearance of impropriety.  This is a case of, at best, extremely poor judgment and it absolutely taints the Department’s investigation of Hillary Clinton.”
 
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner released the following statement on the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) becoming law:

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “The signing of PROMESA into law is the first step on the path toward fiscal solvency and a brighter future for Puerto Rico and its citizens. It is a common sense solution that will protect taxpayers and be the vehicle for real, substantive change in the lives of millions of Americans.”
 
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the 2016 OASDI Trustees Report, officially named the Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds, was released, revealing the precarious future of America’s Social Security program.

According to the report, Social Security’s combined trust fund asset reserves will become depleted by the year 2034 and the Medicare Hospital Insurance trust fund will be depleted by the year 2028. 

In an effort to curtail these devastating findings, the Trustees recommend a 21 percent increase in payroll taxes or a 16 percent cut in benefits for all current and future beneficiaries. Either option would significantly hurt hard working American citizens. 

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “The facts revealed in the annual OASDI Trustees Report are troubling, but certainly not surprising, and they show that we cannot kick the can down the road any longer. Every day that goes by, the situation grows worse and will require more drastic changes to the Social Security and Medicare programs. The time to act is now. The health and security of all Americans depend on it.”
 
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner released the following statement regarding the Great Lakes governors’ unanimous approval of the Lake Michigan water diversion to Waukesha:

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “For more than a decade, Waukesha officials and dedicated members of the Wisconsin DNR have conducted studies, evaluated alternative water supply options, and presented their findings to various environmental authorities, both in the state and throughout the Great Lakes region. The city met every environmental requirement, resulting in today’s unanimous approval granting Waukesha access to Lake Michigan water. It is a great victory for Waukesha and its citizens, and will prove to have a net positive effect for the community and the environment.”
 
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner released the following statement regarding the adoption of House Concurrent Resolution 89, which expressed that a proposed carbon tax would increase costs for middle class families, contribute to job losses, and put further strain on the United States economy:

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “Under President Obama, the American economic outlook is precarious at best. Rather than find solutions to the real problems citizens face each day, the President and his EPA want to create a carbon tax that would increase energy prices, force hardworking families to pay more for necessities, such as food, gasoline, and electricity, and lead to additional job losses. Today, the House of Representatives made the right decision to put American families first and consider the best interests of the country over those of the President’s legacy.”
 
Intellectual property rights are critical to our nation’s unsurpassed creativity and cultural development. I’ve long been an advocate for intellectual property rights because individuals deserve to be compensated for their work. However, the process in which these artists receive payment has become opaque. This is largely due to performing rights organizations (PROs), which operate in a convoluted fashion. The music licensing system in which artists are compensated must be clear and transparent for the good of artists, consumers and bar and restaurant owners.

Fairness in music licensing was brought to my attention in the early 1990s, when Wisconsin bar and restaurant owners from my district contacted me about being harassed in their places of business by representatives from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) — one of the three PROs in the U.S. While seeking payments from the small-business owners, ASCAP representatives were unnecessarily aggressive and combative.

Bar and restaurant owners frequently complained that these organizations exploited bureaucratic complexities to demand increasingly high payments. Worse, small businesses were often unclear about what exactly they were paying for.
I became involved to enact meaningful reforms, and as I dove deeper into the complexities of the issue, the extent of the problems became clear.

The Copyright Act of 1976 granted copyright owners the exclusive right to perform or to authorize others to perform publicly their works. When establishments, such as restaurants or bars, turn on a radio or television for the benefit of customers, or feature live music, that constitutes a public performance of copyrighted works under current law. Unless an exemption applies, the copyright owner of a work publicly performed has the right to receive compensation for that work.

To comply with the law, business owners pay licensing fees to PROs. However, each PRO represents different intellectual property, essentially forcing businesses to pay fees to every PRO to ensure compliance.

The Copyright Act of 1976 contained narrow exemptions, however, including an ambiguous home-style exemption that allowed a single receiving apparatus — such as a television or radio — to be used if there was no direct charge to a customer collected by a business owner.

This vagueness created the opportunity for PROs to go after unsuspecting establishments, often anonymously. That threatened everything from sports bars to barbershops, which would frequently find themselves in legal limbo if an investigation yielded evidence that a radio broadcast was being played on multiple devices or that charges for goods or services had the economic value of the intellectual property factored into them.

In response to this problem, I introduced the Fairness in Music Licensing Act.

The legislation expanded the home-style exemption and increased the number of bars and restaurants exempted from needing a public performance license to play music on television during business hours. It also created a dispute resolution mechanism available to small- and medium-sized businesses through the federal courts.

Despite strong opposition from PROs, the legislation was signed into law after having been attached as an amendment to the Copyright Term Extension Act. The new provision kept the home-style exemption of the original provision but added specific exemptions based on the type and size of establishment, as well as the type of equipment used to play music.

Studies have concluded that the act exempts roughly 70 percent of eating and drinking establishments, making it easier for small-business owners to operate and serve consumers. The Copyright Act of 1976 has helped; yet problems still exist, including the tactics used by PROs and the method in which they determine which spaces within small businesses are determined public or private — an important distinction when considering where music licensing is necessary.

Establishment owners should not be forced to conduct business with every licensing society demanding a fee. There needs to be transparency in how establishments are billed, and we need to ensure that when a business pays a music licensing fee, it knows what it is buying. There can be no fair long-term marketplace outcomes when the playing field is weighted in favor of performance rights groups.

Music, film, literature and all other forms of intellectual property represent the soul of the American people. It’s vital we protect them, but there needs to be balance and fairness in the process. When that balance is lopsided, it’s the duty of Congress to take legislative action to ensure it is restored for the benefit of both the creators and consumers of intellectual property.

View this piece online here.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the Deterring Undue Enforcement by Protecting Rights of Citizens from Excessive Searches and Seizures (DUE PROCESS) Act – the companion bill to Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner’s legislation, which was passed in the House of Representatives last month.

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “Civil asset forfeiture is a critical component of the overall effort to fix our broken criminal justice system, and the DUE PROCESS Act makes common sense changes to federal forfeiture laws that help innocent Americans. Its introduction today in the U.S. Senate brings us one step closer toward meaningful reform that will tamper abuse and protect citizens’ Constitutional rights.”

The DUE PROCESS Act builds upon changes made in the 2000 Civil Action Forfeiture Reform Act by increasing transparency in the civil asset forfeiture process, adding protections for innocent property owners, and implementing additional protections to ensure property owners have the opportunity to contest seizures. The legislation also improves the notice that the government must give property owners and makes it easier for them to be heard by a judge.

Additionally, the DUE PROCESS Act entitles property owners to an initial hearing, where they can retrieve confiscated property immediately if it was not seized according to the law. It increases the availability of attorney fees for innocent owners, and places a higher burden of proof on the government.
 
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Deterring Undue Enforcement by Protecting Rights of Citizens from Excessive Searches and Seizures (DUE PROCESS) Act, sponsored by Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), passed the House Judiciary Committee and now moves forward to a full House vote. 

The DUE PROCESS Act builds upon changes made in the 2000 Civil Action Forfeiture Reform Act by increasing transparency in the civil asset forfeiture process, adding protections for innocent property owners, and implementing additional protections to ensure property owners have the opportunity to contest seizures. The legislation also improves the notice that the government must give property owners and makes it easier for them to be heard by a judge.

Additionally, the DUE PROCESS Act entitles property owners to an initial hearing, where they can retrieve confiscated property immediately if it was not seized according to the law. It increases the availability of attorney fees for innocent owners, and places a higher burden of proof on the government.

Congressman Sensenbrenner:
 “Civil asset forfeiture is an important piece of the overall effort to reform our criminal justice system, and the DUE PROCESS Act makes common sense changes to federal forfeiture laws that help innocent Americans. Its passage out of the House Judiciary Committee is a significant step forward in the process, and I’m confident that it will soon be passed in a full House vote.” 
 
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner released the following statement in response to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) renewable fuel standard proposal to increase ethanol volume obligations to nearly 19 billion gallons in 2017:

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “Proposing that nearly 19 billion gallons of ethanol be incorporated into the fuel supply is another example of excessive EPA bureaucratic over-reach – a mandate that is harmful to American consumers and robs them of their freedom to choose. Environmentally, it probably does more harm than good, and it will lead to misfueling, damaged engines, voided warranties, and increased emissions. The EPA should not be in the business of limiting choices or picking winners and losers when it comes to ethanol.”
 
For the last few years, opponents of civil forfeiture have been calling on Congress to make it more difficult for law enforcement to take property, cash, and vehicles from innocent Americans through a process known as civil asset forfeiture.

Now, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers on Capitol Hill is taking action.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., is spearheading legislation reforming federal civil forfeiture laws. He, along with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, introduced the Due Process Act on Thursday.

The legislation would raise the burden of proof from a “preponderance of evidence” to “clear and convincing,” which makes it more difficult for the government to forfeit property, especially from innocent people.

Under the Due Process Act, or the Deterring Undue Enforcement by Protecting Rights of Citizens from Excessive Searches and Seizures Act of 2016, the burden would also be shifted away from the property owner and on to the government to prove that there was a “substantial connection” between seized property and criminal activity.

Under current civil forfeiture law, property owners fighting a seizure must prove that their seized assets are not connected to criminal activity or that they didn’t know the property was being used in a crime.

Sensenbrenner’s bill would also increase transparency among federal agencies seizing property and calls for an annual audit of civil forfeitures. The Due Process Act further creates a publicly available database of all federal forfeitures.

In addition to making it more difficult for lawmen to forfeit property, particularly from innocent property owners, the bipartisan legislation creates a right to counsel for all property owners challenging a civil forfeiture and allows a property owner to recover lawyer’s fees if they successfully challenge a forfeiture against the government.

The Due Process Act also codifies policy changes implemented by the Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service regarding structuring.

Structuring involves making consistent cash deposits or withdrawals of just under $10,000 to avoid government reporting requirements.

Under a subset of civil forfeiture laws regulating cash deposits, the government can seize money from those accused of committing structuring violations.

However, many cases have arisen in recent years involving small business owners who had thousands of dollars seized by the IRS for committing structuring violations.

In many of those instances, property owners were unaware they were breaking the law and were ultimately never charged with a crime.

Both the IRS and Justice Department announced in 2014 and 2015, respectively, they would only pursue structuring cases if the property owner had been charged with a crime or if the money was used for criminal activity.

But experts encouraged Congress to codify those policy changes.

“Today’s introduction of the Due Process Act is a tremendous step forward for the rights of innocent property owners,” Jason Snead, a policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal. “The act adopts many of the reforms advocated for by Heritage and a broad coalition of organizations.”

Though the Due Process Act addresses key issues opponents of civil forfeiture have with the tool, it doesn’t take aim at the Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing program or the profit incentive civil forfeiture creates for law enforcement agencies.

Under Equitable Sharing, law enforcement agencies can pursue forfeitures under federal law instead of state law, which experts say allows law enforcement to skirt stricter state civil forfeiture laws in favor of the looser federal standards. Additionally, under the Equitable Sharing program, law enforcement agencies can keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds from forfeited property.

Furthermore, at the federal level and in many states, law enforcement agencies can keep 100 percent of the proceeds from forfeitures if they’re not seized under Equitable Sharing.

“It is unfortunate that neither the Equitable Sharing program nor the broader financial incentives in forfeiture law have been addressed,” Snead said. “So long as agencies can retain and spend the proceeds they generate from the forcible seizure of property, there will be a temptation to abuse forfeiture laws to generate revenue.”

In speaking publicly about civil forfeiture, law enforcement officials have praised the tool for providing agencies with money outside of the normal budget process.

Civil asset forfeiture is a tool that gives law enforcement the power to seize property if they suspect it’s tied to a crime.

Law enforcement ramped up the use of civil forfeiture to combat the war on drugs in the 1980s. However, in recent years, many innocent Americans have been caught up in the forfeiture system after having cash, cars, and property seized.

Many of those people were ultimately never charged with a crime.

Congress first tackled civil asset forfeiture in 2000 through the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act.

Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., tried to reform civil asset forfeiture laws last year through the Fair Act, or the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act of 2015.

However, the legislation didn’t move through House or Senate committees.

View this article online here.