The Leaflet: State’s Consider Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

Published February 16, 2017

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) recently discussed civil asset forfeiture, a practice that allows law enforcement to permanently seize property without pressing criminal charges, in C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” stating that he thinks it “is a terrible idea until you’ve convicted someone.”

The Heartland Institute describes civil asset forfeiture as a legal process law enforcement agencies use to take personal assets from individuals suspected of a crime or illegal activity. Across 14 states, net proceeds from civil forfeitures more than doubled between 2002 and 2013, rising from $100 million to $250 million according to a 2015 report by the Institute for Justice. The report also found that net assets in forfeiture funds within the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Treasury Department increased from $1 billion in 2001 to nearly $4.5 billion in 2014.

Civil asset forfeiture has united people cross the political spectrum including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Institute for Justice, and the Koch Association. All organizations argue that property owners should be given the presumption of innocence until proven guilty and when that doesn’t happen, they are denied one of their most basic rights.  

In a recent Stateline article, Freelance Reporter Scott Rodd argues that a number of states are considering changes including tracking systems that promote transparency while other states are banning forfeitures without a criminal conviction. “Some states are focusing on greater transparency and oversight of civil forfeitures. In Mississippi, state Rep. Mark Baker, a Republican, is pushing a bill that would require the state Bureau of Narcotics to create and maintain a searchable website that tracks seized property. Under the state’s current system, comprehensive data on civil forfeiture is virtually nonexistent.”

In a recent The Hill Op-Ed, Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona Jennifer Earl suggests that state legislatures should require that any funds from the sale of seized assets go to supplement (not replace) funding to public defender’s offices as a way to reform civil asset forfeiture. “If you want to curb the improper use of civil asset forfeiture, make the incentives work so that law enforcement will only use it when they really need to. Not only would seized assets no longer directly benefit their budgets, it would fund the attorneys that help keep their actions in check in the criminal courts.”

According to Heartland’s issue page, “Civil asset forfeiture reforms are needed to remove incentives for police to seize assets and a requirement should be set in place that provides clear evidence that a person has committed a crime before property is seized.”

What We’re Working On

Budget & Tax
Research & Commentary: Constitutional Reform Efforts in Virginia
To curb the federal government’s spending, several groups have been encouraging state legislators to use Article V of the Constitution to put forward amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Two-thirds of the states, 34, must approve and submit applications to Congress before a convention of the states can be called under Article V. Thus far in 2017, legislators in the Commonwealth of Virginia have proposed two joint resolutions, now pending in the state’s Senate, calling for conventions with various amendment proposals.

In this Research & Commentary, Government Relations Coordinator Lindsey Stroud examines two proposals in Virginia calling for an Article V convention. “As elected officials representing the interests of the American people, it is paramount state legislators take notice to the ever-increasing debt of the federal government. Virginia lawmakers should consider the costs to people of the Commonwealth that are associated with Washington, DC’s out-of-control spending and utilize constitutionally backed reform efforts to rein in the irresponsible actions of the federal government,” wrote Stroud. Read more

Research & Commentary: Universal ESA Bill Could Make New Hampshire a National Leader in Education Choice
New Hampshire is considering a proposal that would establish a universal education savings account (ESA) program in the Granite State. If passed, ESAs would be available to parents of public school children to pay for tuition and fees at private and parochial schools. The funds could also be used to pay for textbooks, tutoring services, computers and other approved hardware, online courses, educational therapies and services. Funding for each ESA would equal 90 percent of New Hampshire’s per-pupil adequate education grant amount, except for the kindergarten year, in which funding would be 50 percent. Leftover funds would carry over each year of the child’s eligibility and would be available to help pay for tuition at postsecondary schools or used to fund the federal 530 college savings plan, also known as the Coverdell Education Savings Account.

In this Research & Commentary, Policy Analyst Tim Benson says providing a universal ESA program would instantly bring New Hampshire to the forefront of the education choice movement, and would give all New Hampshire families a greater opportunity to meet each child’s unique education needs. When parents are given the opportunity to choose, he writes, every school must compete and improve, which gives more children the opportunity to attend a quality school. Read more

Energy & Environment
Net-Metering Policies Under Fire Early, Often in 2017
In this article for Environment and Climate News, Policy Analyst Tim Benson writes how state legislators in Indiana, Minnesota, and Montana have introduced bills to reform their respective states’ renewable-energy policies, including net metering and solar-energy subsidies. Because under net-metering laws, Benson writes, utilities pay the retail price for electricity from distributed sources of electricity, instead of the wholesale price, distributed-generation customers don’t have to cover their share of utilities’ costs of building and maintaining the electric grid. This cost-shifting is regressive, because rooftop-solar owners have generally higher incomes than others, so lower-income ratepayers end up subsidizing higher-income customers. The California Public Utilities Commission determined customers who have installed net-metering systems since 1999 have had an average median household income of $91,210. This is significantly higher than the state’s median income of $54,283. Read more

Health Care
Research & Commentary: Research & Commentary: Dental Therapists and Hygienists Should Play a Role in Ending Georgia’s Dental Health Shortage
Strict licensing standards have become a significant barrier to entry in many fields, including the dental industry. Supporters of strict state licensing standards argue they assure quality, but critics say the arduous and often expensive licensing process harms the dental market by hindering entry for new providers, thereby impeding the market competition needed to lower costs and improve access for patients.

In this Research & Commentary, Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans examines dental scope of practice laws and how Georgia could improve dental-care access by expanding scope of practice to dental therapists and hygienists. “Georgia lawmakers should work to close gaps in dental-care access by reforming dental licensing laws to allow for dental therapists and hygienists to provide expanded services. This will help ensure patients get preventive and restorative treatment when and where they need it,” Glans wrote. Read more

From Our Free-Market Friends
The Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy Releases New Study
The Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy today released a new study arguing for steps the new Congress and President can take to create a real free market in the sugar industry. The study, Toward a Freer Market in Sugar, examines the current U.S. sugar policy and its impact on business and consumers, and lays out steps for reforming the policy that would lead to a freer international sugar market. The study is written by James C. Musser, Senior Fellow with the Thomas Jefferson Institute.

“Virginia is not a sugar-producing state,” noted Michael Thompson, president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute. “But we certainly have a robust agricultural community … and as we examined U.S. farm policy generally and the growing rates of agricultural subsidization around the globe, it became clear that reforming sugar policy would have a powerful impact in leading the way towards reforming and leveling the playing field in agricultural policy.” Read more