Politics

New House Bill Is A Kick To The Face Of Big Government

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Casey Harper Contributor

Members of the House Committee on the Judiciary announced four bills Tuesday that will attempt to rein in the problem of federal over-criminalization, the next step in the congressional criminal justice reform initiative.

The over-criminalization reform effort announced Tuesday arrived as four bills, each addressing a growing problem: there are so many laws that are so complicated we literally can’t count them all. Multiple groups have attempted to count all the federal laws but eventually gave up. Even the Department of Justice tried to count and after two years had to instead estimate the total at 3,000 criminal offenses, a difficult number not only because it is so high but also because the complex legal code makes it difficult to tell if certain sections should count as one or multiple crimes.

“You will have died and resurrected three times,” and still be trying to figure out the answer, retired DOJ official Ronald Gainer told The Wall Street Journal.

The vast number of complex laws also plagues state governments, but for now the series of bills announced Tuesday addresses the federal level. The Criminal Code Improvement Act of 2015 creates a default mens rea standard for federal crimes that do not currently have a state of mind standard. This means that to be be guilty of the federal law, you have to actually intend to break it.

“Aggressive over-criminalization in this country over the past three decades has left us with a bloated criminal code that makes honest Americans and small businesses vulnerable to the legal repercussions of unintentional violations,” Crime Subcommittee Chairman Republican [crscore]Jim Sensenbrenner[/crscore], who wrote the bill, said in a statement. “Reform is necessary to improve our current standards, reduce our overbearing criminal code, and protect the freedoms of hardworking American citizens.”

The Regulatory Reporting Act of 2015 will require all federal agencies to provide a list to Congress of all regulations that come with criminal penalties.

“The federal regulatory burden has expanded exponentially over the past decades,” said Republican Rep. [crscore]Mimi Walters[/crscore]. “Perhaps the worst type of overregulation occurs when unelected bureaucrats put in place regulations that, if violated, carry criminal penalties.”

The other two bills are less significant. The Clean Up The Code Act of 2015 eliminates criminal penalties for several small offenses and the Fix The Footnotes Act of 2015 tidies up errors in footnotes from previously passed laws.

“Over the past few decades, the federal criminal code has expanded dramatically,” Republican House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said in a statement. “The bills introduced by several of our colleagues make commonsense changes to the federal criminal code to ensure our laws fit within the overall federal criminal law scheme, are appropriate in force relative to other criminal laws, require that a person must intend to commit a crime in order to be criminally liable for that crime, and are necessary.”

The same criminal justice reform initiative gave birth to the Sentencing Reform And Corrections Act of 2015, a bill that reduces several mandatory minimums, mostly for low-level drug offenders, while increasing mandatory minimums for a few other crimes, such as domestic violence and aiding terrorists.

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