STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - March 29, 2007)
By Mr. KOHL (for himself, Mr. SPECTER, Mr. LEAHY, Mr. KYL, and Mr. SCHUMER):
S. 1027. A bill to prevent tobacco smuggling, to ensure the collection of all tobacco taxes, and for other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Mr. KOHL. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act with Senators Specter, Leahy, Kyl, and Schumer.
As the problem of cigarette trafficking continues to worsen, we must provide law enforcement officials with the tools they need to crack down on cigarette trafficking. The PACT Act closes loopholes in current tobacco trafficking laws, enhances penalties for violations, and provides law enforcement with new tools to combat the innovative new methods being used by cigarette traffickers to distribute their products. Each day we delay its passage, terrorists and criminals raise more money, States lose significant amounts of tax revenue, and kids have easy access to tobacco products sold over the internet.
The cost to Americans is not merely financial. Tobacco smuggling also poses a significant threat to innocent people around the world. It has developed into a popular, and highly profitable, means of generating revenue for criminal and terrorist organizations. Hezbollah, for example, earned $1.5 million between 1996 and 2000 by engaging in tobacco trafficking in the United States. Al Qaeda and Hamas have also generated significant revenue from the sale of counterfeit cigarettes. That money is often raised right here in the United States, and it is then funneled back to these international terrorist groups. Cutting off financial support to terrorist groups is an integral part of protecting this country against future attacks, and it was an important recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. We can no longer continue to let terrorist organizations exploit weaknesses in our tobacco laws to generate significant amounts of money. The cost of doing nothing is too great.
This is not a minor problem. Cigarette smuggling is a multibillion dollar a year phenomenon and is getting worse. In 1998, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) had six active tobacco smuggling investigations. In 2005, that number swelled to 452.
The number of cases alone, however, does not sufficiently put this problem into perspective. The amount of money involved is truly astonishing. Cigarette trafficking, including the illegal sale of tobacco products over the internet, costs States billions of dollars in lost tax revenue each year. It is estimated that $3.8 billion of tax revenue were lost, at the Federal and State level, in 2004 to tobacco smuggling. As lost tobacco tax revenue lines the pockets of criminals and terrorist groups, States are being forced to increase college tuition and restrict access to other public programs because of lost revenues. Tobacco smuggling may provide some with cheap access to cigarettes, but those cheap cigarettes are coming at a significant cost to the rest of us.
According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), cigarette trafficking investigations are growing more and more complex, and take longer to resolve. More people are selling cigarettes illegally, and they are getting better at it. As these cases become more difficult to crack, we owe it to law enforcement officials to do our part to lend a helping hand. The PACT Act does that by enhancing BATFE's authority to enter premises to investigate and enforce cigarette trafficking laws. It also increases penalties for cigarette trafficking. Unless these existing laws are strengthened, traffickers will continue to operate with near impunity.
Just as important, though, we must enable our country's law enforcement officials to combat the cigarette smugglers of the 21st century. The internet represents a new obstacle to enforcement. Illegal tobacco vendors around the world evade detection by conducting transactions over the internet, and then shipping their illegal products around the country to consumers. Just a few years ago, there were less than 100 vendors selling cigarettes online. Today, approximately 500 vendors sell illegal tobacco products over the internet.
Without new and innovative enforcement methods, law enforcement will not be able to effectively address the growing challenges facing them today. The PACT Act sets out to do just that by empowering States to go after out-of-State sellers who are violating their tax laws and by cutting off their method of delivery. A significant part of this problem involves the shipment of contraband cigarettes through the United States Postal Service (USPS). This bill would cut off online vendors' access to the USPS. We would treat cigarettes just like we treat alcohol, making it illegal to ship them through the U.S. mails and cutting off a large portion of the delivery system.
In addition, it would facilitate cooperation between law enforcement and private carriers, who are sometimes the unwitting delivery arm of these tobacco traffickers. The bill authorizes the Attorney General to compile a list of sellers who are engaging in illegal cigarette sales, and that list would be distributed to private carriers, like UPS and FedEx. Providing this information to these companies, who have already begun to cooperate with law enforcement in this area, would then be empowered to cut off shipments for those of their customers who are engaging in tobacco smuggling.
The PACT Act is a comprehensive bill to put these illegal smugglers out of business. It enjoys the strong support of tobacco companies, law enforcement officials, and the public health community. The bill contains important authorities that will enable our federal, state, and local law enforcement officials to crack down on cigarette trafficking, and thereby close off a very lucrative funding stream for international terrorist groups and other criminal enterprises. I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation.
I ask unanimous consent that the text of the legislation be printed in the Record.
There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
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By Mr. KOHL:
S. 1029. A bill to amend the Food Security Act of 1985 to provide incentives to landowners to protect and improve streams and riparian habitat; to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.
Mr. KOHL. Mr. President, I rise today to offer a bill that amends the Food Security Act of 1985 to provide incentives for landowners to protect and improve streams and riparian habitat. This legislation would provide cost-share payments to landowners who protect and repair streamside and in-stream habitat, improve water flow and quality and initiate watershed management and planning.
The Stream Habitat Improvement Program, funded at $60 million annually, would direct resources to important fish habitat projects. The fisheries community has recognized the loss of habitat as a major threat to the health of sport fish populations. Farmers who participate in the program will make improvements on streams running through their property. Improvements could include repairing shoreline, removing barriers to fish passage, and planting trees to shade the water and strengthen stream banks. Further, existing partnerships, such as the National Fish Habitat Action Plan, could provide invaluable input to guide the program.
Healthy fisheries mean healthy communities. The EPA and the Fish and Wildlife Service have found that 81 percent of all stream fish communities in the U.S. have been adversely affected by either pollution or other disturbances. Rivers and streams provide essential habitat for numerous plant and animal species. Many of these species are threatened, endangered, or at risk for extinction. Degraded and altered habitats are the most frequently cited factors contributing to the decline among threatened or endangered aquatic species and among many native recreational and non-game fish species.
In Wisconsin alone there are almost 950,000 anglers, and almost half a million more come from out of State to fish in Wisconsin. Together these anglers spend $1 billion on fishing-related expenses in our State. This new program would advance efforts to support stream habitat restoration more effectively, which in turn will support a thriving economy and aquatic species populations. Further, healthy stream and river habitats also play an important role in the Nation's economy. Each year, about 34 million anglers spend $17 billion directly on fishing equipment and another $15 billion on trip-related expenses, food and lodging, and other recreational fishing-related expenses.
Successful management of stream and river habitat requires cooperative partnerships among producers, landowners, as well as Federal and State agencies. Offering producers and private landowners incentives and opportunities for restoring stream habitat will prevent the decline and listing of aquatic species. Building strong relationships between farm owners, private landowners and the angler community ensures that healthy fisheries will be maintained for future generations to enjoy.
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Mr. KOHL. Mr. President, today I am pleased to be a cosponsor of the Elder Justice Act of 2007. As in previous Congresses, I am an original cosponsor and fully support the bill's goals and passage. I want to thank Senators HATCH, LINCOLN and SMITH for their continued leadership to make sure that our Nation finally acts in a comprehensive way to prevent elder abuse.
Our Nation has for far too long turned its back on the shame of elder abuse. Congress has held hearings on the devastating effects of elder abuse for a quarter of a century. With this bill, we are finally saying enough is enough--elder abuse is unacceptable and we are going to act to stop it.
This bill takes several important steps to make improvements to what is now an inadequate system of protection for our vulnerable elders. First, it boosts funding for the long-term care ombudsman program, which serves as an advocate for the elderly and disabled in long-term care. It also establishes an adult protective services grant program and forensics centers that are charged with developing expertise on elder abuse. In addition, it elevates the importance of elder justice issues by creating a coordinating council of Federal agencies that will make policy recommendations and submit reports to Congress every 2 years. And the legislation requires the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services to take a proactive role in funding initiatives aimed at improving training programs and working conditions for long-term care professionals as a strategy for increasing the number of such workers during the coming years.
As much as I support this bill, however, I am disappointed that it does not include one important policy that can prevent abuse--a common-sense background check system that can screen out potential workers with serious criminal convictions that may put fragile seniors in long-term care at risk.
Almost every day, we read terrible stories about elderly patients who are beaten, sexually assaulted, or robbed by the very people who are charged with their care. Research shows that many instances of elder abuse could be avoided by a simple background check. It is time to put in place a nationwide system that can detect and prevent elder abuse. The seven-State pilot program that began in 2003 is an excellent start. Already, it is showing that States can successfully implement comprehensive, cost-effective programs that consolidate checks from State registries, State criminal records, and FBI records. In the coming weeks, I plan to introduce legislation that will take steps to make these pilot programs a reality for all States. I hope my colleagues will join me in this effort.
Again, I want to thank Senators HATCH, LINCOLN, and SMITH for their commitment to the cause of elder justice. The legislation we are introducing today will go a long way to focusing more attention on solutions for elder abuse, and developing new approaches to improve the quality of long-term care.