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Former Rep. Gabby Giffords’ ultralight measure now law

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ)

The bill that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords sponsored as her final legislative act in Congress was signed into law on Feb. 10 by President Obama, strengthening rules against using ultralight aircraft to smuggle drugs into the U.S.

“This bill gives our nation’s law enforcement expanded authority to combat illicit drug trafficking on our Northern and Southern Borders and being able to sign it next to my friend Gabby Giffords gives me enormous pride,” said Obama on Feb. 10.  “She has spent her career fighting for the safety of the people of Arizona and the fact that it passed unanimously shows just how much Gabby is respected by her colleagues in Congress in both parties.  Her dedication to fairness and to this country has been an inspiration to so many, including myself,” he said. “I wished Gabby well in her recovery and told her that I expect to see more of her in the months and years to come.  I’m confident that while this legislation may have been her last act as a Congresswoman, it will not be her last act of public service,’ he added.

Giffords (D-AZ) had worked for years on the The Ultralight Aircraft Smuggling Prevention Act (H.R. 3801). The bill cleared the House on Jan. 25 and the Senate on Jan. 26. Giffords retiring from Congress to recover from an assassination attempt in Jan. 2011 that nearly claimed her life. On Jan. 22, 2012, she announced she was retiring from Congress to concentrate on further recovery.

The act, said the bill’s House co-sponsor Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) adds “ultralights” (ULAs) to the definition of aircraft under aviation smuggling provisions of Tariff Act of 1930 and would add “conspiracy to commit” smuggling to the offenses that can be applied (in addition to actually committing smuggling crimes) when using ultralight aircraft. It also encourages inter-agency cooperation between Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security on technology to detect ultralights, Flake said.

The law gives law enforcement agencies additional tools by closing a loophole in current law that allows smugglers who use ULAs to receive a lesser penalty than those who use airplanes or cars and establishes the same penalties for trafficking, whether by plane, automobile or ULA - of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.