A state senator proposes Nebraska change the rules under which law enforcement can seize assets.
Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue says the civil asset forfeiture laws are being abused, with cash and other property being seized without the owner being convicted of a crime.
“We believe the civil asset forfeiture law is a valuable program for law enforcement. We want to take the assets away from bad guys. But, when it crosses over and starts affecting innocent civilians and innocent civilians are having their cash and their assets seized, that’s where it crosses the line and that’s where it’s out of balance,” Garrett tells reporters during a news conference. “There needs to be a criminal conviction before the state should be able to seize somebody’s assets.”
Garrett sponsors LB 1106. It also would direct law enforcement to obey state law and distribute forfeited assets to the schools and for drug education, rather than going through the federal system which returns 80% of the assets back to law enforcement.
The bill has attracted a wide range of support from divergent groups, such as ACLU Nebraska and the Attorney General’s office, which often clash rather than collaborate.
Transparency of seizure activity would be required under the bill as well. Law enforcement agencies would have to disclose how much they have taken and from whom.
ACLU Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller says the measure seeks to assure assets are only taken from criminals and only when they are connected to criminal activity.
“We won’t be seeing any more property owners having to prove themselves to be innocent rather than having the presumption of innocence that the American system requires,” according to Miller.
Garrett says the proposal would require law enforcement go through the state system, rather than the more lucrative federal system, which returns 80% to the law enforcement agency.
“The State Patrol used some of their civil asset forfeiture money for the new crime lab. And they need that new crime lab, but we in the legislature ought to be allocating funds for that and they ought not to be having to rely on civil asset forfeiture for doing that,” Garrett says.
Current state law divides forfeitures between school funding and drug education. The bill would change the distribution with half going to education and half going to law enforcement.
A report issued by ACLU Nebraska disclosed law enforcement collected $42.6 million between 2004 and 2014 through civil asset forfeitures.
AUDIO: Civil Asset Forfeiture law news conference. [12 min.]