The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

July 29, 2013

Roy Blunt and Lynn Jenkins, guest columnists: Citizen Empowerment Act offers protections

— After 25 years in business, Randy Park, president of Printex Inc. in Hannibal, received his first visit from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration last January. During that meeting, Randy complained that the federal officials treated his employees “like convicted felons,” acting “rude, condescending and unprofessional.” Randy believes a recording of those discussions would have shown the federal agents’ harassment and complete lack of respect — despite his staff’s full cooperation and willingness to comply with their demands.

Dan Welch, general counsel for BRB Contractors Inc. in Topeka, Kan., tells a cringe-worthy story about the Environmental Protection Agency from a few years ago.

In order to comply with EPA rules, Dan was required to check a construction site for an endangered beetle population. The EPA “instructed” Dan to put raw chickens out at night to lure any possible beetles out of the ground. When these dead chickens were eaten by coyotes, the EPA told him to build cages around them.

In the end, Dan never found any beetles but was left with a bunch of rotten chickens in custom-built cages.

Randy and Dan certainly are not the only Americans who have felt needlessly badgered or targeted by government officials under this administration.

As we witnessed during the unraveling of the Internal Revenue Service targeting scandal, people ranging from national conservative leaders to adoptive parents and leaders of pro-Israel organizations have faced unprecedented and unwarranted harassment.

We have also learned that the EPA leaked personal data for 80,000 livestock facilities after inexplicably spying on American farmers. Meanwhile, Marty Hahne — who is better known by his fans as Marty the Magician — is facing ridiculous federal red tape from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has demanded that he produce a disaster plan for his rabbit, Casey. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one facing the burden of ridiculous regulations from this administration.

Americans need less government intrusion in their lives, not more. But with the implementation of President Obama’s massive health care law looming on the horizon and continued regulatory over-reach by his administration, families and job creators are rightly concerned the federal government will have more access to their personal information and more opportunities to intervene in their daily lives.

These people deserve tools to even the playing field and, quite simply, get the federal government off their backs.

That is why we are working together to introduce the Citizen Empowerment Act in both the House and the Senate — legislation to expand current law and give people the right to record conversations with most executive agency employees during the course of an investigation.

Currently, Americans are forced to provide IRS employees with 10 days’ notice if they plan to record a conversation. Our bill will eliminate this onerous requirement when people are talking to IRS employees and other federal investigators.

The legislation also allows people to record both telephone and in-person conversations at any stage of an investigation, and it puts the burden back on the government by requiring federal officials to give written notice of the individual’s right to record the conversation.

Thad Trump, co-owner of Trump Trucks in Kahoka, Mo., said the Citizen Empowerment Act would hold government officials “accountable to their statements, so they’d be less inclined to change time tables on us.” “This bill is a great idea, especially for small-business owners who cannot afford to have legal counsel at every meeting,” said Don Alexander, owner and president of his family's manufacturing business in Parsons, Kan. “Being able to record our visits with inspectors would not only give small businesses something to stand on when we think a government official is overreaching but might also prevent it from happening in the first place.”

Rick Berger, president of Berger Company, a fourth-generation family-owned business in Atchison, Kan., said the Citizen Empowerment Act will “certainly allow individuals and smaller businesses to help protect themselves from further abuse and intimidation from government officials.” And Bill Kartsonis, president of Superior Linen in Kansas City, Mo., explains that the bill “would be a helpful tool, especially when agency employees provide conflicting information about compliance requirements.”

The federal government works for the people it represents, not the other way around.

Americans deserve this level of transparency and accountability from their government officials to combat intimidation, harassment, and over-reach.

By putting the power back into people’s hands, the Citizen Empowerment Act would help renew trust in government and restore the checks and balances that make our country great.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., is vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., is vice chairwoman of the Republican House Conference and represents Southeast Kansas.

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