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THESE days, it’s practically unheard-of for those on the left to embrace ideas promoted by the likes of the Koch brothers and the conservative Heritage Foundation. But it would be a shame if partisan distrust kept Democrats from supporting a proposal favored by the right: a measure that would bolster the idea that a criminal conviction should require proof of what lawyers call “mens rea” — literally, a guilty mind. That’s because it can be harnessed to aid some of those who are especially ill treated by the criminal justice system: the poor and racial minorities.

As a legal principle, mens rea means that causing harm should not be enough to constitute a crime; knowingly causing harm should be. Walking away from the baggage carousel with a suitcase you mistook for your own isn’t theft; it’s theft only if you knew you didn’t own it. Ordinary citizens may assume that this common-sense requirement is already the law of the land. And indeed law students are taught that prosecutors must prove not just that a defendant did something bad, but also that his frame of mind made him culpable when he did it.

But over the years, exceptions to the principle have become common because mens rea requirements have not been consistently detailed in laws. In one often-cited case, the president of a company that mistakenly shipped mislabeled drugs was convicted of a crime even though he had no way of knowing that the labels were incorrect. In another, a truck driver crossing the Canadian border into Washington to deliver cases of beer was convicted of drug trafficking even though prosecutors produced no evidence that he knew or should have known that the truck had a secret compartment filled with drugs. In these cases and many more like them, the prosecution secured conviction without showing that the defendant had a guilty mind.

Congress is now considering a measure sponsored by Representative James Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, that would require that mens rea be proven in many more cases. For instance, a law making it a crime to mislabel drugs would automatically be interpreted as criminalizing knowing mislabeling. The measure would not affect statutes that make clear that no mental state need be shown for guilt — for example, laws criminalizing sex with minors.

The provision is part of a sweeping criminal justice bill that includes important reforms sought by liberals, including reduced sentences for minor crimes. Democrats, however, oppose the mens rea provision on the ground that it would weaken efforts to prosecute corporate executives whose companies have caused harm. Their opposition is a major stumbling block to passage of the larger bill. But suspicions about Republican motivations should not turn liberals against these changes, because strengthening mens rea requirements will also help poor and minority people.

Consider a New York law banning “gravity knives” — folding knives that open with a flick of the wrist — that lacks mens rea protections. The statute does not require proof that a defendant knew her knife was a gravity knife, much less that gravity knives are banned in the state. As a result, the law has been used by the police in New York City to pick up thousands of people, most of them minorities, even if they had the knives for innocent purposes. And in Baltimore, Freddie Gray died in a police van after being arrested for violating a very similar statute that also lacked a mens rea requirement.

The Justice Department opposes the proposed mens rea measure on the ground that it would have prevented convictions of corporate executives whose products caused harm. But it is entirely possible that the government could have proven mens rea had it been required to try. Furthermore, criminal conviction is not the only way to make corporations pay for their harms: Tort liabilities and civil penalties are not constrained by mens rea requirements.

Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, opposes strengthening mens rea requirements across the board, arguing that each problematic statute should be revised individually. But it would take years to revamp thousands of laws. The history of New York’s effort to revise its gravity-knife ban underscores the problem: A proposal to require proof of “unlawful intent” in gravity-knife cases passed the New York State Assembly in 2015 but stalled in the State Senate.

The greatest impact of the federal legislation might be in encouraging changes at the state level, where poor and minority defendants are most frequently prosecuted. Ohio and Michigan have already passed mens rea reform laws. And in the wake of federal legislation, other states, including New York, would likely follow their lead.

Democrats should push for even more sweeping changes to unjust “felony murder” laws, which permit murder convictions for anyone participating in a felony in which someone dies, even if no one involved could have been expected to foresee that happening. We know that adolescents are far less aware than adults of the risks their conduct involves, but since felony murder does not require proof of mens rea, adolescent defendants can’t offer evidence of their distorted perceptions of risk.

For liberals, the right’s proposal offers a chance to strike a blow for justice for ordinary people. No one should be convicted of a crime — or even stopped by the police — without evidence of a criminal state of mind.

View this piece online here.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner released the following statement on the passage of the Judicial Redress Act in the House of Representatives: 

Congressman Sensenbrenner:
 “Yesterday’s passage of the Judicial Redress Act in the Senate, and its passage tonight in the House of Representatives, is a clear indication of the importance of this smart, bipartisan legislation. As this bill heads to President Obama’s desk, I’m optimistic that it will be signed into law, completing a critical agreement with our allies and securing a safer future for the United States."
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner released the following statement on the Senate’s passage of the Judicial Redress Act:

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “The passage of the Judicial Redress Act in the Senate brings us one step closer toward completing an important agreement between the United States and our European allies, allowing the exchange of critical information and rebuilding trust between nations. The ability to transfer data between international law enforcement agencies is paramount to our nation’s safety, and I applaud my colleagues in the Senate for passing this crucial legislation." 
When it comes to business, most companies will choose their bottom lines over patriotism — it is simply the reality of today's economic environment. Global competitiveness, economic prosperity and smart money management are prioritized over paying a premium for an American Zip code, which is why we continue to see corporate giants relocating to greener economic pastures without a second thought.

Inversions — simply stated — take place when businesses relocate their headquarters outside of the United States through an acquisition. They allow companies to pay the corporate tax rates of their new home country, potentially saving them millions of dollars.

Unfortunately for us, the most recent example of this corporate maneuver is happening in our own backyard.

Johnson Controls — our state's largest public company — has called southeastern Wisconsin home for more than 130 years. But recently the company announced its acquisition of Tyco International, and subsequent relocation to Ireland. The company will presumably take hundreds of jobs and certainly millions of tax dollars along with it — putting a significant dent in the national economy and dealing a huge blow to our local and state economies.

Although Johnson Controls has publicly stated that the merger's production of an estimated $500 million in annual savings is the main reason for the acquisition and relocation, it's impossible to ignore the massive tax savings of the decision and naïve to think it had no bearing on the company's final decision.

The situation playing out in Wisconsin isn't unique. Over the past few years, American companies have increasingly sought refuge from our burdensome corporate tax code. So much so, in fact, that the United States Department of the Treasury released new rules in late 2014 to curtail inversions and keep tax dollars flowing. However, the measure did little to prevent companies from relocating to foreign tax havens. According to the Wall Street Journal, "the Johnson Controls-Tyco deal is at least the 12th inversion pursued by American companies" since the Department of the Treasury implemented the new rules.

Despite the negative effects the departures of these companies are having on the American economy, it is difficult to blame corporate leaders when you crunch the numbers. The current rate paid by American companies is 35% — the highest corporate tax rate among developed countries. Plainly stated, this is unacceptable and is causing serious problems for this nation.

Looking specifically at the Johnson Controls-Tyco merger, Johnson Controls will stand to adopt Ireland's 12.5% tax rate upon relocation. As noted in a recent Wall Street Journal article, the company would save "at least $150 million a year on taxes over the first three years." It is difficult to argue against massive savings such as these, which is why it's urgent that Congress take on serious and comprehensive tax reform.

The discrepancy between our corporate tax rate and those of competing countries is alarming. In a competitive global economy, the United States cannot afford to lose American-built businesses due to our overwhelming and burdensome tax code.

We must simplify the tax code, close loopholes, and cut tax rates — that is the only way to be competitive in the international market and keep our businesses here in America. Additionally, a simpler, more efficient tax code also may entice foreign companies to relocate here, turning the tables on our competitors and enhancing our local and national economies.

Over the past few decades, our tax code has been increasingly used as a political tool, making real reform a difficult proposition in Washington. However, with the economic prosperity of our nation hanging in the balance, it is imperative we turn our attention to finding serious solutions that will not only help our businesses, but also individual citizens.

Reforming the tax code is necessary for the continued success of our nation. We've seen the consequences of kicking the can down the road, and here in Wisconsin we're experiencing the devastating effects of out-of-control tax rates. Although we cannot prevent Johnson Controls from leaving, through true reform we can avoid losing additional companies to competing nations.

We must take swift action and protect our economy, our jobs and America's long-term economic prosperity.

You can view this online here.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner released the following statement in response to President Obama’s final budget proposal: 

Congressman Sensenbrenner: 
“Our national debt is approaching $20 trillion, but that did not deter President Obama from advocating for billions of dollars to expand government and fund his liberal agenda in his 2017 budget proposal. Rather than giving Americans in need a hand up, the President is quick to offer hand-outs, which will lead to greater debt, a weaker American economy, and increased government dependence. Rather than seizing his last opportunity to put forth a serious, fiscally solvent budget proposal, the President defaulted once again to playing politics at the expense of the taxpayer.” 
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Each year, CQ Weekly releases a comprehensive vote study featuring the records of each Member of Congress. In 2015, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner obtained a perfect voting record of 100 percent by not missing a single vote. Only 22 of the 435 Members of the House of Representatives achieved this rating.

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “Elected Members of Congress are put in office by voters to best serve the interests of the people and communities they represent. It’s a unique responsibility – one I have never taken lightly. I’m proud of my thoughtful and consistent voting record, as well as my dedicated service to the people of Wisconsin’s Fifth Congressional District, and will continue working diligently on behalf of my constituents as long as I serve in the United States House of Representatives.”

The complete vote study scores can be found in the February 8th edition of CQ Weekly.  
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Over the past few years, researchers, independent advocacy groups, law enforcement and federal agencies, and bipartisan Members of Congress have been working together in an effort to reform America’s broken criminal justice system and find solutions to some of the country’s most devastating challenges. One such challenge is widespread heroin and opioid addiction. 

Between 2002 and 2013, national heroin deaths nearly quadrupled, reaching more than 8,000 annually by 2013. In that same year, an estimated 517,000 people used heroin – a figure up 150 percent from just six years earlier. Throughout the United States, addiction is ravaging communities and destroying lives. 

Last year, in an effort to combat this deadly epidemic, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner introduced the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act (CARA), which offers a critical first step toward ending heroin and opioid addiction. 

Provisions within the bill establish community-based anti-drug coalitions, a national education campaign aimed at deterring new and young users from trying the drug, and creating alternative incarceration programs and outpatient treatment centers for non-violent drug offenders.

Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced its plans to reassess the agency’s approach to opioid medications. According to the FDA, the proposed multifaceted plan will focus on policies aimed at reversing the epidemic, while still providing effective medication. 

Congressman Sensenbrenner:
 “For more than a decade, there has been an alarming rise in heroin and opioid addiction, causing devastation to individuals, families, and communities throughout the nation. Last year, I introduced the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act (CARA) to address this serious problem. With a Senate companion bill and the FDA’s newly reaffirmed commitment to finding solutions, I’m confident in the direction our country is headed toward solving widespread addiction.” 

companion bill has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse [D-RI]. Both bills await passage in the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, respectively. 
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner released the following statement in support of the efforts of the City of Waukesha to borrow water from Lake Michigan:

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “The City of Waukesha has gone through extensive public and environmental processes, and meets the requirements necessary under the Great Lakes Compact to borrow Lake Michigan water. As the city’s application goes before the Great Lakes Regional Compact Council for review, I’m optimistic it will be approved and Waukesha will have the necessary access to a safe water supply.”

Congressman Sensenbrenner also sent the following letter of support to the Regional Body Designees and Compact Council Alternates and Secretariat:

Dear Regional Body Designees and Compact Council Alternates and Secretariat,

The City of Waukesha’s application to borrow water from Lake Michigan is now entering the next, and possibly final, stage. Waukesha, which is under court order to find a new drinking water supply, has been examining its options for more than a decade. The state of Wisconsin has been analyzing the issue for at least five years.  Ultimately, Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources determined the city’s application meets the criteria for approval as laid out by the Great Lakes Compact, an agreement between the states and Canadian provinces that border the Great Lakes.

The city’s application is now before the Great Lakes Regional Compact Council, which will have the final say. I support approval of Waukesha’s application because it clearly complies with the requirements laid out in the Compact and the city has proposed a reasonable and environmental responsible plan.

The regional review process was designed to be unbiased and based on science and key criteria contained in the Compact. The Compact was established so that every community directly impacted by the Great Lakes would have a voice. This was necessary to ensure that decisions about the Lakes would not be driven by politics. The process is rigorous and exhaustive. It’s a lot harder to do it this way, but the result will be rooted in true democracy and based on science and planning, not public pressure.

Of course, the public should have its say and the regional review process provides for an opportunity for that to occur. Through public events and online forums, public input has been and will continue to be registered. 

But the Compact is clear about what qualifies a community to receive Great Lakes water. Among the most important standards for approval are: that the community making the request be in a county that straddles the Great Lakes Basin divide and that the community has the ability to return the water it borrows. These standards wisely protect everyone in the Great Lakes Basin by ensuring that Great Lakes water is not sent to faraway locations outside the basin. Should an application be rejected for reasons not discovered as part of the fact-finding process, the Compact and the communities it is meant to serve would suffer.

Waukesha meets these requirements. The city has instituted a comprehensive water conservation program to reduce existing and future needs for water but still needs a new water supply. The current water supply is depleted and contains natural contaminants such as the carcinogen radium. The request to borrow Great Lakes water comes after the city considered 13 other potential options and conducted an in-depth analysis of the five other prospective water supply alternatives to Lake Michigan. Three different entities (the City of Waukesha, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and regional planning officials) held more than 100 public meetings and independently found that none of the alternatives proved to be environmentally sound, cost-effective or sufficient compared to Great Lakes water.

Waukesha’s plan makes sense and protects the Great Lakes at the same time. It would withdraw a minimal amount of water (equal to 1/1,000,000th of 1% of the Great Lakes volume) from Lake Michigan via an existing water supply pipeline and would return the same volume of water to a tributary river after it has undergone advanced treatment. There will be no net loss of Great Lakes water to the basin. The enhanced flow in the tributary will in fact improve a fish egg collection facility that is downstream from where the return water will be discharged, providing a benefit to the Great Lakes fishery.

Approval of Waukesha’s application does not have to be a choice between a safe water supply for the city and protecting the Great Lake. Under the terms of the Compact, both are possible. The communities of the Great Lakes need the Compact to be successfully utilized so that important water issues are properly managed and the Great Lakes are protected today and into the future. Waukesha’s application should be approved in order to show that the Compact - and the regional cooperation and trust that fostered it - is working.


Member of Congress
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner released the following statement on the agreement reached between the United States and the European Union Commission regarding a new framework for transatlantic data sharing:

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “Today’s agreement between the United States and the European Union Commission on a new framework for transatlantic data flow is a positive step in the right direction toward ensuring the continued sharing of commercial data between friendly nations. The framework is an absolute necessity for over 5,000 U.S. businesses. I look forward to the Congressional passage of the Judicial Redress Act and ongoing efforts to rebuild trust with our international allies.”
Popular opinion dictates that drug abuse is contained within city limits, but the truth is that addiction doesn’t discriminate by location, age, sex, race, or any other differentiating factor. Drug abuse touches individuals, families, and communities in every corner of our country. Over the past decade, heroin specifically has been devastating lives and wreaking havoc on our communities. 

Between 2002 and 2013, heroin deaths nearly quadrupled, reaching more than 8,000 people annually by 2013. In that same year, an estimated 517,000 people used heroin; a figure up 150 percent from just six years earlier.

We cannot let this epidemic continue to spread. Addressing this issue head on will not only save lives; it will save significant taxpayer dollars both in our healthcare and our prison systems. 

Key researchers, law enforcement agencies, and addiction treatment providers all agree that the most effective way to approach the challenges of heroin abuse is to pursue a comprehensive response to both heroin and opioid addiction. In order to be successful, the response must include:
• Prevention efforts
• Law enforcement strategies
• A plan to address overdosing
• Expansion of evidence-based treatment options

It’s true that no one piece of legislation will completely solve the addiction crisis we face, however there are certainly ways we can address this problem head on. Last year, I introduced the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which would offer a critical first step toward ending this deadly and costly epidemic. This serious piece of bipartisan legislation has also been introduced in the Senate. 

Solutions to this terrible problem will provide a desperately needed lifeline to individuals and families while simultaneously rebuilding communities and saving taxpayer dollars. Confronting heroin addiction is part of my larger efforts to reform our broken criminal justice system, and I’m committed to seeing this through because strong individuals make strong families. Strong families make strong communities, and strong communities make for a stronger, more prosperous America.