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Giffords to resign Wed. after final vote

House to consider her ultralight smuggling bill

U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake said that Gabrielle Giffords will resign from Congress on Wednesday, but not before the House takes up her bill to apply anti-smuggling laws to ultralight aircraft.

"While it will officially be the Giffords-Flake bill, it is really Gabby's legislation," he wrote on Facebook on Tuesday afternoon.

The bill was introduced Monday by the bipartisan duo.

"She worked on it long before last year's tragedy. Its passage will be a great tribute to her," the Arizona Republican wrote.

"Just before Gabby Giffords officially resigns tomorrow, the House will take up the 'Ultralights' bill," Flake wrote.

Giffords' spokesman, Mark Kimble, declined to comment Tuesday on the timing of Giffords' resignation, but announced that a vote for the bill will be her final act as a congresswoman.

Giffords announced Sunday that she would resign this week.

The bill is scheduled for a vote Wednesday morning under a suspension of House rules. Debate is set to start at 9 a.m. Eastern time, with a vote to follow about 90 minutes later.

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Giffords' bill would extend "anti-smuggling laws to ultralight aircraft now used by traffickers to move illegal drugs across the U.S.-Mexican border," Flake wrote.

Giffords is "committed to taking this crucial step that would help secure the border against drug smugglers," said Pia Carusone, her chief of staff.

In 2010, Giffords wrote in a guest opinion published by TucsonSentinel.com that the Ultralight Smuggling Prevention Act would "crack down on smugglers who use small, low-flying aircraft to sneak illegal drugs into our country."

"If it becomes law, individuals caught smuggling using ultralights can be prosecuted for using the aircraft in addition to being prosecuted for the drugs in their possession. If they are convicted of this new offense, they can receive a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. This bill will establish the same penalties for smuggling drugs on ultralights as for those who smuggle using airplanes or automobiles," she wrote.

The law passed the House in the last Congress by a 412-3 vote, but failed to proceed in the Senate.

Last year, the Senate passed the bill, but was blocked by Constitutional rules that mandate laws containing tax provisions must originate in the House.

The bill is the second Giffords has introduced in this session of Congress.

Just two days before she was shot last year, she called on her colleagues to cut their pay by five percent. That measure did not advance.

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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Mariana Dale/TucsonSentinel.com

Giffords tours the family center named in her honor with Food Bank CEO Bill Carnegie on Monday. The visit to the Food Bank was Giffords' final official act in her district, her office said.

Giffords' ultralight bill

The proposed law, as described by Giffords' spokeman in a news release:

Every year, hundreds of ultralights are flown across the southern border and each can carry several hundred pounds of narcotics. Ultralights – small, single-seat aircraft – are favored by smugglers because they are inexpensive, relatively quiet and can fly at night without lights. They often are able to evade radar detection and can drop a load of narcotics in the U.S. and return to Mexico without landing....

Recent news reports have shown that Mexican organized crime groups are increasingly using ultralights to drop marijuana bundles in agricultural fields and deserts in the United States. The Los Angeles Times reported last year that there were 228 incursions by ultralights in the last federal fiscal year, almost double from the previous year. In August, an ultralight crashed in New Mexico carrying 134 pounds of marijuana.

The legislation would:

  • Give law enforcement agencies additional tools to combat this type of drug trafficking by closing a loophole in current law that allows smugglers who use ultralights to receive a lesser penalty than those who use airplanes or cars
  • Establish the same penalties for trafficking, whether by plane, automobile or ultralight: up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine
  • Add an attempt-and-conspiracy provision to the aviation smuggling law to allow prosecutors to charge people other than the pilot who are involved in aviation smuggling
  • Direct the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security to collaborate in identifying equipment and technology used by the Defense Department that could be used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to detect ultralights