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senate Bill S. 744

Should Possession of Toxins Like Ricin Be a Crime?

Argument in favor

The possession of dangerous, weaponizable toxins such as ricin should be a crime. When HHS reformatted its regulations several years ago, overlooking ricin as a controlled toxin to be covered under the criminal code was an oversight; this bill corrects that error.

burrkitty's Opinion
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07/10/2019
Divine’s sake, Skald! Y’all need to pay more attention to the text of the laws you pass. Congress is constantly “fixing technical errors” that could have been avoided if you’d bother to read the damn bills first. Most of you are trained lawyers aren’t you? Maybe if you spent time doing your job rather than in the phone banks fundraising for re-election, stupid errors like this would happen less.
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Gopin2018's Opinion
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07/10/2019
Aren’t they already and if not why aren’t they? #MAGA
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Argument opposed

HHS’ decision to not include ricin in the criminal code when it reformatted its regulations was intentional. Without understanding the reasoning behind HHS’ decision, Congress shouldn’t override the agency’s decision via this bill.

Doug's Opinion
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07/10/2019
These regulations are incredibly complex and even those tasked with regulating them have problems with compliance. How would the average person have a chance since many of these “select agents” can be found naturally. Take ricin for example, it’s a product that is derived from castor beans.
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Joseph's Opinion
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07/10/2019
It should be a crime but leave that for the states to handle because the Federal government has no role in the process.
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bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The house Passed on a voice vote
      house Committees
      Committee on the Judiciary
      Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security
  • The senate Passed on a voice vote
      senate Committees
      Committee on the Judiciary
    IntroducedMarch 12th, 2019

What is Senate Bill S. 744?

This bill -- the Effective Prosecution of Possession of Biological Toxins and Agents Act of 2019 -- would broaden the coverage of current laws against the misuse of certain toxins. Specifically, this bill would make it a crime for certain “restricted persons” to possess any biological agent or toxin listed as a “select agent” by the Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary.

Criminal fines collected under this bill would be recorded in the budget as revenues. They would be deposited in the Crime Victims Fund, from whence they could be spent without further appropriation action. 

HHS reformatted its regulations several years ago, causing certain toxins, including ricin, to not be covered under the criminal code.

Impact

Restricted persons; select agents; toxins; possession of toxins by restricted persons; crime; Crime Victims Fund; and the HHS Secretary.

Cost of Senate Bill S. 744

The CBO estimates that there would be no budgetary impact to implementing this bill.

More Information

In-DepthSen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced this bill to make it a crime for restricted persons to possess any biological agent or toxin listed as a selected agent by the HHS Secretary. 

House sponsor Rep. John Ratcliffe says

“With the threat of bioterrorism on the rise, it’s more important than ever to ensure that our legal system is equipped to properly punish individuals who knowingly accumulate deadly toxins and agents without required registration. As a former federal prosecutor, I’m committed to improving the laws on the books to make sure that dangerous substances are kept out of the hands of people who can use them for malign activity.”

House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) made an opening statement in support of this bill when it was marked up by the House Judiciary Committee on June 12, 2019: 

“H.R. 1986 fixes a technical, but important, error in the federal code. Current law makes it a crime for certain “restricted persons” to possess any biological agent or toxin listed as a “select agent” by the HHS Secretary. Several years ago, HHS re-formatted its regulations, which caused certain toxins — including ricin — to not be covered by the criminal code… [W]e are now seeing the effects of this error. Since the citations in the current statute are off, individuals who would otherwise be guilty of a crime — unregistered possession of ricin — have been moving to dismiss cases and federal prosecutors have had to argue the problem is a scrivener’s error, but several cases have been affected already — including one in my district. In United States v. Gibbs, in the Gainesville division of the Northern District of Georgia, the judge dismissed charges against a defendant for unregistered possession of ricin. In doing so, the court stated it is Congress’ duty to fix problems it has created in federal law.”

This bill unanimously passed the Senate and has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security with the support of three bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including two Democrats and one Republican. Its House companion bill, sponsored by Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX), passed the House Judiciary Committee by voice vote with the support of three bipartisan House cosponsors, including two Republicans and one Democrat.


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / lmgorthand)

AKA

Effective Prosecution of Possession of Biological Toxins and Agents Act of 2019

Official Title

A bill to amend section 175b of title 18, United States Code, to correct a scrivener's error.