Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner introduced the first in a series of bills to rein in laws and policies he believes "over-criminalize" many activities.
His first target is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Earlier this month Sensenbrenner reintroduced legislation to eliminate the agency and divvy up its responsibilities between the Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI.
"The ATF is a scandal-ridden, largely duplicative agency that lacks a clear mission," the Menomonee Republican said. "Its 'Framework' is an affront to the Second Amendment and yet another reason why Congress should pass the ATF Elimination Act," Sensenbrenner added, referring to the agency's recent proposal to ban some armor-piercing bullets.
As part of his work on the House Judiciary Committee's Over-criminalization Task Force, Sensenbrenner concluded the nation's criminal system needs overhauling, and that eliminating the ATF is one step in that process, according to his spokesman.
Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Sherwood, has already signed on as a co-sponsor. The idea is not strictly a Republican one, however. Rep. John Conyers Jr., the Michigan Democrat who's dean of the House, is a long-time member of the House Judiciary Committee and has teamed up with Sensenbrenner on other matters, most notably updating the Voting Rights Act. He previously proposed rolling the ATF into other departments as well.
On Jan. 9, Conyers and GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Mike Lee of Utah joined Sensenbrenner in penning a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to reform federal asset forfeiture programs.
"[W]e have concerns that the government is not using the process fairly and instead is infringing on the rights of small business owners and motorists, some of whom are our constituents," the quartet wrote Holder.
Speaking about "adoptive seizures" and the "Equitable Sharing" program, the four lawmakers said current policy encourages local authorities to zealously seize property from people suspected of crimes, often without warrants and ultimately requiring citizens never charged with a crime to fight to get their cash or property back.
"Under this arrangement, state and local law enforcement agencies bring property seized under state law to a federal seizing agency for federal forfeiture and then can receive up to 80 percent of the proceeds of the resulting forfeiture," they wrote. "We are concerned that these seizures might circumvent state forfeiture law restrictions, create improper incentives on the part of state and local law enforcement, and unnecessarily burden our federal authorities."
Holder listened and a week later limited the Equitable Sharing program.
Nonetheless Sensenbrenner wants to see more progress in the asset forfeiture department and plans to introduce legislation further reigning in law enforcement's ability to seize property. He also plans to pen a bill that would revise and reorganize the federal criminal code, among other things.
WASHINGTON -- Some of the most controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act expire on June 1, and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner thinks he has a solution that will satisfy both federal intelligence officials and privacy advocates.
Congress, in the waning days of the 113th session, almost passed the update and partial rewrite of the law enacted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The House passed the USA Freedom Act authored by Sensenbrenner, but the Senate fell just two votes shy of taking up the companion version written by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., before adjourning in December.
Revelations that the National Security Agency was collecting telephone "metadata" from Americans' phone records in bulk leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden beginning in June of 2013 prompted calls to reign in the spy agency's surveillance powers. The NSA and other intelligence agencies relied on a broad interpretation of Section 213 of the Patriot Act for their power to sift through the timestamp information of Americans' phone calls. Sensenbrenner and Leahy worked on an update, the USA Freedom Act, that eventually won the support of the Obama administration, the intelligence community, the technology sector and privacy advocates.
After the Senate version couldn't overcome a filibuster in December, bill supporters worried their window had closed. The rise of ISIS over the summer and incidents of homegrown terrorism the radical Islamic group inspired in Europe bolstered the rationale that underpinned the Patriot Act in the first place. Many lawmakers have grown wary of any perceived relaxation of national security.
Sensenbrenner, Leahy and other key lawmakers are undaunted, however, and plan to reintroduce the USA Freedom Act again as soon as this month. But now they face an uphill battle even in the House, where Speaker John Boehner has shown no appetite for bringing it to the floor again. Many provisions of the Patriot Act have been made permanent, but three very controversial provisions, including Section 215, sunset June 1.
Some members of Congress who support reigning in the NSA and other intelligence agencies' capabilities believe just allowing those provisions to expire is the best path. However, as the deadline approaches, the NSA, CIA and other agencies likely will ratchet up their case for extending bulk data collection, roving wiretaps and the so-called "lone-wolf" provision.
Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, and Leahy think the USA Freedom Act addresses everyone's concerns and that ultimately Congress will have to consider it if leadership wants to prevent any expiration of those Patriot Act powers.