Friday, June 27, 2008

Unintended consequences of H.R. 5912 - that Slippery Slope


Thomas Jefferson once said that `The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.' While the intended purpose of this bill, to prevent minors from accessing certain tobacco products, is certainly something we can all agree upon, I fear that H.R. 5912 is another step in the natural progress to which Mr. Jefferson once referred.

States have criminal laws in place to prevent minors from purchasing tobacco products and as a strong believer in this cause, I am a proud cosponsor of Congresswoman Blackburn's bill, H.R. 5513, the `Stop Adolescent Smoking Without Excessive Bureaucracy Act of 2008.' However, unlike her bill H.R. 5912 takes a questionable approach towards addressing the problem that could have unintended consequences. First, since the USPS would have to open packages to verify its contents, H.R. 5912 presents constitutional concerns involving the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizures. Because of these criminal and constitutional concerns, it would certainly be more appropriately handled by the Judiciary Committee.

As a practical matter, simple tasks such as mailing cigarettes to military service members overseas would be made illegal through this bill. As the USPS has made clear, the resources needed to search for tobacco products would have to be diverted from other priorities such as confiscating illicit drugs and child pornography. Furthermore, this bill would make illegal consumers' ability to seek refunds for tobacco products through the mail. Given the myriad of tobacco regulations throughout the country, this bill proposes making it illegal to ship samples to officials sanctioned to administer tests to ensure legal compliance. That is why I offered an amendment to allow for the mailing of tobacco products under exceptional circumstances and withdrew it after receiving assurances that these concerns would be addressed before floor consideration.

As Founding Father James Wilson once said, `Government, in my humble opinion, should be formed to secure and to enlarge the exercise of the natural rights of its members; and every government, which has not this in view, as its principal object, is not a government of the legitimate kind.' H.R. 5912 is an example of a move further from, not closer to, Mr. Wilson's description of the purpose of the federal government.