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House passes Bishop bill to block shipments of synthetic opioids from overseas

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Mike Bishop

Washington — The U.S. House passed legislation Thursday sponsored by Rep. Mike Bishop meant to block the shipment of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl through the international mail system. 

Bishop, a Rochester Republican, said he was "astounded" to learn that current law treats packages arriving in the United States through private carriers such as FedEx differently than those coming in through the U.S. Postal Service. 

It has led to a loophole allowing drug traffickers to ship synthetic opioids via USPS, lawmakers say. 

"This is a gap out there, and no one's ever done anything to fix it," Bishop said at the U.S. Capitol. 

"To me, we should have had it done yesterday, so I'm glad we moved it like we did today." 

Since 2002, private carriers like FedEx and UPS have been required to collect data on international packages that include where it's from, where it's going and what's inside. 

Customs agents use the data to target suspect shipments, but the USPS has been exempt from the requirement to collect similar data. 

Bishop's bill would require the Postal Service to ramp up collection of the data by year's end and reach 100 percent compliance by 2020 or risk civil penalties. 

"It also makes the USPS and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection come before Congress and provide a report and show they've complied," Bishop said. 

"Which I think is the only way you're going to keep these agencies and departments in a position that the tail is not wagging the dog all the time."

The legislation passed by a vote of 353-32, with Michigan Reps. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, and Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, voting no.

The legislation has a companion in the Senate sponsored by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota. 

Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-New Jersey, said lawmakers negotiated a compromise with the USPS and its unions to give them more time to come into compliance than was called for in the initial legislation. 

The revision means the Postal Service also won't be penalized for issues outside its control such as countries that lack the capacity to collect the data and pose a low risk of violating U.S. laws, Pascrell said during debate. 

"As a practical matter, these changes mean if the Postal Service continues its current work, penalties will likely never be imposed," Pascrell said.