Legislative Intent News & Notes
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LIS NEWS AND NOTES
Happy New Year! In this issue, we address the legislative intent behind a statute that played a role in the current standoff in Oregon, provide a brief overview of the upcoming state and federal legislative sessions, and touch on a second-session bill of interest in California (anyone else fascinated by the legal cloudiness of online fantasy sports?).
Meanwhile, in Oregon: At this point, everyone is likely aware of the situation in Oregon in which armed Americans have taken over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters in protest of the prosecution of ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven Hammond. When the media started talking about the ranchers being convicted under a terrorism statute, the “Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996,” which was passed following the Oklahoma City bombing, our interest here at Legislative Intent Service, Inc. was piqued.
The Hammonds’ charges included T.18 USC, section 844(f)(1), which provides:
(f)(1) Whoever maliciously damages or destroys, or attempts to damage or destroy, by means of fire or an explosive, any building, vehicle, or other personal or real property in whole or in part owned or possessed by, or leased to, the United States, or any department or agency thereof, or any institution or organization receiving Federal financial assistance, shall be imprisoned for not less than 5 years and not more than 20 years, fined under this title, or both.
However, all of the above language, except for 5-year minimum sentence (which is arguably the crux of the dispute), pre-date this 1996 law.
Section 844 was added in 1970 by Public Law 91-452, the “Organized Crime Control Act of 1970.” At this time, subdivision (f) only referred to damage and destruction caused by “an explosive” … and the name gives a big clue on the source of Congress’ concern. The statute carried a maximum of 40 years, which was later reduced in 20 in 1994.
Twelve years later in 1982, President Reagan signed Public Law 97-298, “the Anti-Arson Act of 1982,” which added “fire” to the causes of damage or destruction prohibited by section 844(f).
Other than the penalty amendment in 1994, section 844(f) remained unchanged until Congress rewrote much of section 844 following the Oklahoma City Bombing.
So, were the Hammonds convicted under a “terrorism” statute? These days, that’s a bit of a loaded question. Our answer here at LIS is, “they were convicted under a statute that has been on the books since 1970, when Congress was addressing organized crime, but sentenced to a minimum added following the Oklahoma City Bombing.” It does not exactly roll off the tongue, but it more fully addresses the intent of the statute.
Current Legislative Sessions: California, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and the District of Columbia all convened legislative sessions this week. Several more will convene later this year. Only Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas have no regular session scheduled for 2016. The National Conference of State Legislatures provides helpful information on legislative sessions across the country.
The United States Senate and House of Representatives also reconvened earlier this week. This marks the start of the second session of the 114th Congress.
Stay tuned: We look forward to seeing what topics occupy legislators this year. Right off the bat, we’re intrigued to see how states choose to address online daily fantasy sports companies. California has already passed a bill out of committee that would allow California to license such companies.
In Case You Missed It on our Blog: Learn more about the origins of California’s Paramedics (spoiler alert: this was truly a matter of life and death) and see the 2015 California legislative session by the numbers.
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