A change in how law enforcement would handle the forfeiture of cash and assets advances in the legislature, though questions linger.
Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue sponsors LB 1106 which would require a criminal conviction to seize property and would funnel more of the forfeitures through the state system rather than through the federal system.
“Here’s a system that has gone amuck, when we first instituted the system for forfeitures, it was all about getting money away from bad guys,” Garrett tells colleagues during legislative floor debate.
Garrett’s proposal initially drew a wide diversity of support. Both the Attorney General’s office and the ACLU supported it.
Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln says qualms have arisen about changes made by the Judiciary Committee.
“Since that hearing and the adoption of the committee amendment, I just want to be clear with everybody, much of that support has now eroded away,” according to Coash.
More discussions will take place before the bill returns for more debate. Law enforcement objects to reporting requirements in the committee amendment and the thresholds set for whether seizures go through the state or federal process.
Garrett asserts the current system is abused with nearly 2,000 cash forfeitures amounting to between $100 and $499 and a little less than 900 totaling $500 to $999, and only 259 forfeitures totaling $5,000 or more.
Furthermore, Garrett says Nebraska law enforcement too often goes through the federal system, which allows the federal government to kick back some of the forfeitures to local law enforcement, yet deprives the money that should flow to public schools according to the state constitution.
Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins urges colleagues to back the measure even with the misgivings expressed during debate.
“This bill needs to be passed,” Bloomfield says. “Private property being confiscated by state, federal, or local law without due process is unconstitutional. The very idea that we allow it to happen in Nebraska is unthinkable.”
Under LB 1106, Nebraska law enforcement would go through the state system unless the forfeiture totals more than $50,000. Seizures of cash and assets would have to be reported to the state Auditor.
After the vote in the Unicameral, Attorney General Doug Peterson’s office released a statement:
The Attorney General’s office was largely responsible for the original version of LB1106, which brought about broad support from both law enforcement and civil liberties organizations.
The bill advanced by the Legislature today was substantially amended by the Judiciary Committee. These changes were made without consultation from members of the AG’s office, county attorneys and law enforcement.
The statement continues…
Law enforcement is concerned that the reporting requirement, as drafted, simply will not work. An additional concern is the so-called anti-circumvention provision is pre-empted by federal law according to 8th and 10th Circuit precedent.
It is law enforcement’s hope that legislators would take time to understand these complexities and would reconsider the merits of the bill before continuing to advance it.