April 11, 2012 at 9:03 AM ET
Have passport, will travel?
Not if you’re delinquent on your taxes and some of your elected officials have their way. With tax season upon us, it seems that old dictum — No man’s life, liberty or fortune is safe while our legislature is in session — may also apply to Americans’ international travel plans.
That strange bit of governance can be found on page 1,447 (!) in S. 1813, which passed the Senate on March 14. Sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the bill was ostensibly written to reauthorize federal aid for the nation’s highways.
But in an impressive display of legislative sausage-making, the bill also authorizes the “denial, revocation, or limitation of a passport” for anyone with “a seriously delinquent tax debt in an amount in excess of $50,000.”
Translation: You don’t have to be found guilty of tax evasion but if the IRS has filed a lien against you for big bucks, you would have to rethink that trip to the French Open or London Olympics.
What restricting international travel has to do with funding American highways is unclear, especially as spokespeople for Sen. Boxer’s office and the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works declined to comment on the matter.
“The way in which laws get cobbled together is something I don’t even try to understand,” said Robert Wood, a San Francisco tax attorney who recently addressed the issue for Forbes.com. “A lot of weird things sneak in in odd ways.”
“I don’t know what this has to do with transportation,” said Paul Ruden, senior vice president for legal and industry affairs for the American Society of Travel Agents, who nevertheless, understands the rationale behind the proposed regulation.
“If someone owes a lot of money to the government and they’re carrying a government instrument that says they’re free to go, they might not come back,” he told msnbc.com.
The IRS has yet to respond to an inquiry from msnbc.com about how many Americans might be subjected to the rule if it were to pass.
At this point, the passport-confiscation provision is only a proposal and neither Ruden nor Wood expects the Senate bill to pass as is in the House of Representatives, where the Republican majority has a markedly different approach to funding and regulations.
And even if does, suggests Ruden, the majority of travelers should be able to hold on to their little blue books.
“I’m going to be an optimist and say there aren’t that many Americans in this situation and planning to use their passport to leave the country,” he said.
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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.