Friday, March 20, 2009

Paleontological Resources Preservation Legislation Passes the Senate -- Again

What a twisted and beautiful creature is the legislative process. On March 19, 2009, the Paleontological Resources Preservation legislation was, once again, passed by the Senate. It now goes back to the House where, finally, it may be approved and sent on to the President for enactment into law.

This time, the Paleontological Resources Preservation legislation and the rest of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (S. 22), were added by the Senate to H.R. 146, a bill previously passed by the House. (H.R. 146 was originally titled the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Battlefield Protection Act.) The whole package now returns to the House.

Before it was passed, the Senate approved an amendment by Senator Tom Coburn (R., Oklahoma) that modified the provisions of the Paleontological Resources Preservation legislation. The legislation now requires (“shall allow”) the administering federal Secretary to allow casual collecting on public land; previously, the language was permissive (“may allow”).

Please note, the definition of casual collecting (i.e., collecting without a permit) is NOT changed. It is still limited to “common invertebrate and plant paleontological resources for non-commercial personal use.”

The Coburn amendment also modified the civil penalties, and rewards and forfeiture provisions of the legislation. Among other changes, it removed language that previously would have subjected to forfeiture a person’s vehicles and equipment used in violating the legislation.

Have to love it. The stated purpose of the Coburn amendment was: “To protect scientists and visitors to federal lands from unfair penalties for collecting insignificant rocks.” Right. As Senator Coburn said, in somewhat twisted syntax, “All it does is lighten up on the inadvertent and the non-inappropriate looking for small fossils and small rocks that may not even contain fossils.”

Curiously, his floor statement only described the change of “may” to “shall,” with no references to the other changes on the penalty and forfeiture side. I wonder if those changes are more significant than I realize. [Later edit: Senator Bingaman (D., New Mexico), floor manager for the bill, spoke in favor of all of the changes that the Coburn amendment included, so I guess the conclusion is that the penalty and forfeiture modifications were de minimis.]

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