The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) this week called on Congress to amend the Lacey Act so that individuals and businesses that unknowingly purchase illegal wood products from overseas do not have their property seized and are not exposed to civil and criminal liability.

Testifying before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs, Barry Rutenberg, chairman of NAHB and a home builder from Gainesville, Fla., said that NAHB supports the goals of the Lacey Act and the prevention of trade in illegally harvested plant and wood products.

“Unequivocally, we do not support illegal logging in any place at any time,” he said. “However, honest business owners, including home builders who exercise due care and had no knowledge that a seized product contains illegal wood, should have the right to seek the return of those goods.”

Under the current statute, innocent companies are left without legal standing to challenge a government taking in court. As a result, both builders and consumers who buy products that encompass the entire supply chain dealing with imported wood products (lumber, cabinets, guitars, etc.) are held personally liable to certify that the timber product did not come from plant material that was taken, transported, possessed or sold in violation of any foreign law.

“Builders have no way of knowing the origin of a particular piece of lumber, a component of a cabinet, a closet door or crown molding,” said Rutenberg. “The sheer number of different sources of wood that could be included in the finished home makes it nearly impossible for a builder or remodeler to know with certainty where and under what circumstances the individual components were sourced.”

With this in mind, NAHB is urging Congress to amend the Lacey Act to include reaffirmation of civil forfeiture law so that innocent consumers and businesses would have the opportunity to seek the return of their property in court if it was seized as a result of any enforcement actions under the Lacey Act.

NAHB also commends Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) for his efforts to propose much needed reforms to the Lacey Act while at the same time seeking to improve and protect the integrity of the law.

H.R. 3210, the Retailers and Entertainers Lacey Implementation and Enforcement Fairness Act, or “Relief Act,” recognizes the essential need to hold harmless those who unknowingly and without any culpability, are found to be in possession of products that run afoul of the Lacey Act.

“H.R. 3210 represents an important first step and we look forward to working with Rep. Cooper to improve the bill as it moves through the legislative process,” said Rutenberg.