Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirAugust 18, 20176min713
Jay Stooksberry

Failure to display your dog’s vaccination tags will cost you $50 in Aspen. Excessive growth of weeds in your yard? $100 in Boulder. Failure to wear a seatbelt? $200 in Pueblo.

If taxes are the price we pay for civilization, then what are fines and citations indicative of? I would argue that they are price we pay for a nanny state that seems increasingly fixated on generating revenue only to perpetuate itself.

In 2015, Jeremy Jojola of 9NEWS investigated the aggressive traffic ticket practices of various municipalities across the state. In his aptly named feature, “Citation Nation,” Jojola uncovered several Colorado municipalities that were overly dependent upon traffic violations as a revenue source for their general funds.

Mountain View—an obscure enclave of 518 people that could be easily confused as just another neighborhood of Denver—managed to issue 3,624 traffic tickets in 2014. The fines collected by this afterthought of a municipality comprised 53 percent of Mountain View’s total revenue.

The investigation uncovered municipalities where citation revenue accounted for percentages as high as 93 percent of their total general fund!

“It should be ‘serve and protect’, not ‘fine and collect,’” asserts Steve Kerbel.

Based in Colorado Springs, Kerbel is a one-man wrecking crew when it comes to challenging government at every level. A successful businessman, Kerbel took on Colorado’s Division of Securities, challenging a regulatory decision that cost him his retirement savings. He even ran for president, seeking the nomination of the Libertarian Party in 2016.

Now, he’s actively organizing volunteers, raising money, and promoting his new cause, “Stop the Shakedowns”— a campaign to present a statewide ballot measure that will radically reform how fines for victimless crimes are collected in our state.

What “Stop the Shakedowns” proposes is simple yet creative: all fines, forfeitures, or financial penalties are first paid to the victim of a crime; if no victim restitution is necessary, payments can be made to a registered Colorado charity selected by the penalized person.

The goal of this measure is to wean government off of what is causing it to be oversized and bloated: our money. The hope is that the shift in funding will also consequently create a seismic shift in priorities for those who enforce the law, inspiring less speed traps and a more judicious enforcement of crimes that actually involve victims. Plus, the obvious conflict of interest—profiting from the very laws they enforce—is off the table.

As you read this now, “Stop the Shakedowns” is already in motion. After several trips to the State Capitol, Kerbel has finalized ballot language, which has gained the approval of the Colorado General Assembly’s Legislative Council. He is only one public hearing away—getting approval from the Colorado’s Title Board—from being able to collect signatures to qualify to be on the 2018 ballot.

Fortunately, Kerbel isn’t the Lone Ranger; the Colorado General Assembly tackled police rent-seeking from a different angle during this past session. In April, Colorado legislators passed House Bill 1313, a new law that requires all law enforcement agencies to open up their books about their use of civil asset forfeiture—the extrajudicial seizure of property by police without an actual conviction. Colorado’s Department of Local Affairs will publish and maintain the information on a public database.

Sponsored by a diverse, bipartisan coalition of legislators, the bill was passed with a resounding majority. Of the 100 Colorado legislators, only 14 opposed the bill. HB-1313 was signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper on June 9.

The political will for change exists, so maybe there is hope.

Colorado made national headlines in 2012 when it voted to legalize recreational marijuana, putting the state ahead of the curve nationally when it challenged antiquated legal taboos. Now, with “Stop the Shakedowns” and HB-1313, Colorado has the opportunity to be a trendsetter again—this time, challenging revenue-centric policing and promoting judicious law enforcement.

To learn more about “Stop the Shakedowns,” be sure to visit www.stoptheshakedowns.com. This campaign will require money and volunteers to become reality.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 12, 20174min334

Washington, D.C.-based civil-liberties watchdog Institute for Justice joined in the applause for Gov. John Hickenlooper’s decision Friday to sign into law a much-debated rollback of state and local law enforcement’s civil-forfeiture powers. The new law includes a number of checks on those powers including a provision that drew dogged opposition from Colorado’s law-enforcement agencies: State and local agencies in most cases no longer will be able to get federal forfeiture funds for collaborating with the feds on busts.

The bipartisan legislation was introduced by Reps. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, and Stephen Humphrey, R-Eaton, in the House and Sens. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, and Tim Neville, R-Littleton, in the Senate.

Using civil forfeiture, police and other law-enforcement agencies can seize cash, cars, homes and other assets from those merely suspected of involvement in crimes. No one need be convicted of a crime or even charged with one. The policy has generated a lucrative revenue stream for law enforcement at all levels of government — fueling a years-long debate between law-and-order politicians reluctant to rein in the practice amid the War on Drugs and civil libertarians who contend the seizures are an affront to the Bill of Rights.

In a press statement, the Institute for Justice lauded Hickenlooper and said Colorado set a new standard:

“Colorado now has the best laws in the nation, hands-down, for seizure and forfeiture transparency,” said Institute for Justice Senior Legislative Counsel Lee McGrath. “Through its comprehensive disclosure requirements, this law will play a vital role in keeping both the public and legislators well-informed about civil forfeiture in Colorado.”

… “Colorado has created an exemplary model for other states to follow, particularly in shining a light on forfeiture spending and making seizure and forfeiture activity readily available online,” said Jennifer McDonald, an IJ research analyst, who co-authored a report on forfeiture transparency and accountability. “The state should ensure that these requirements are properly implemented in the months to come.”

The institute’s full press statement includes a helpful recap of the new law’s key feature as well as an explainer on the federal “equitable sharing program” under which Colorado, according to an analysis by the institute, received some $47 million between 2000 and 2013. Here’s the link again.

 


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Joey BunchJoey BunchJune 11, 20176min264

This week’s Colorado political news touched on a little bit of everything, seemingly: a new state party, a career opportunity for a high court justice, shoddy construction and cops’ rewards for crime busting.

These are the Colorado Politics stories our staff thinks you’ll be hearing more about in the weeks, months and years to come:

 

Unity Party founder Bill Hammons (Photo courtesy Hammons via Facebook)
Unity Party founder Bill Hammons (Photo courtesy Hammons via Facebook)

5. Welcome to the party, Unitarians

Incremental though it may be, it’s always history when a new political party officially joins the fray.  Colorado Politics’ All-Night Party has never made the cut. This week, however, the Unity Party of Colorado cleared the 1,000-member hurdle to be an officially sanctioned minor party in the state. Unity joints the Libertarian Party, the Green Party and the American Constitution Party. Maybe if Colorado Politics gets a band for the All-Night Party, we can get a thousand members.

Read the full story here.

 

Transportation
(Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

4. Fix It Colorado won’t put it on the ballot

One of the few remaining groups still thinking about asking voters for a new tax to fund much-needed transportation projects in Colorado in November said this week they won’t do it this year. The coalition of contractors like their odds better in 2018. Meanwhile, the Independence Institute could still ask voters to force lawmakers to address major interstates in the existing state budget.

Read the full story here.

 

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3. Hick sides with lawmakers on police disclosure

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed surprisingly controversial legislation to press law enforcement on publicly disclosing all the proceeds and assets they collect in civil cases. Law enforcement uniformly fought the bill, saying it was arbitrary and could endanger important sources of federal money they receive.

Read the full story here.

 

construction defects
(Jay Pickthorn/The Argus Leader via the Associated Press)

2. Supremes side with the builders

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that when a builder and a homeowners association sign a contract, the HOA members can’t vote to change it. The issue could have log legs in determining how construction defects deals are struck and enforced.

Read the full story here.

 

In this Nov. 19, 2016, file photo, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Allison H. Eid speaks in a discussion during the Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention in Washington.
(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

1. Colorado Justice Allison Eid nominated to federal bench

An 11-year member of the state’s highest court, Allison Eid would be the first woman to serve on the 10th U.S. Court of Appeals, which hears cases from Colorado and a bunch of other Western states. Whether it was a consolation nod or not, she still has to get through the U.S. Senate, and Sen. Michael Bennet of Denver could play a pivotal role.

Read the full story here.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 9, 201711min219


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Peter MarcusPeter MarcusJune 5, 20176min508

 

Gov. John Hickenlooper is being pressured to decide between criminal justice reform and the needs of the law enforcement community regarding a controversial civil forfeiture bill.

Much of the law enforcement community, including Colorado Springs Police Chief Peter Carey, is urging Hickenlooper to veto the legislation, which aims at reporting seizure information to the state and pushing cases away from federal control.

The governor has reportedly received dozens of letters in opposition from police and local governments, including from the Colorado Municipal League, Colorado Counties, Inc., the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, County Sheriffs Of Colorado and Colorado State Patrol, to name a few.

The criminal justice reform side of the debate says the practice, in which law enforcement can seize money and property in suspected criminal cases, even before a verdict is reached and without due process, is abusive.

The governor has not yet made a decision on the measure, which has him in a thorny situation. His office continues to discuss the bill with stakeholders, including lawmakers and law enforcement officials.

One option facing the governor is to allow the measure to become law without his signature, though he would likely include a letter explaining his position.

Police chiefs and sheriffs say they aren’t opposed to the idea of reforming the practice, but that they believe more state-level research into the subject should be done before the legislation becomes law. It’s also a matter of maintaining budgets.

“I understand the desire to increase transparency regarding the process of asset forfeiture, and I support those efforts. However, this bill goes far beyond improving public access to data and analysis regarding asset forfeiture,” Chief Carey wrote in a letter to Hickenlooper.

The bill passed the legislature this year after intense negotiations and previous failed attempts. Supporters of the bill were under the impression that they had reached a fair compromise, but law enforcement says the state is moving too quickly.

“This bill seeks to drastically restrict our participation in the federal asset seizure and forfeiture process without any evidence this process is misused in the state of Colorado,” Carey wrote.

A concern that is driving the process is that agencies – including prosecutors and police – have been outsourcing the legal process to the federal government, which does not have the same standards as Colorado.

Under the legislation, police departments would need to disclose biannually any forfeiture proceeds through either a state of federal forfeiture process.

What’s most concerning to law enforcement is that agencies would be prohibited from receiving proceeds from federal forfeiture cases if property and money seized is less than $50,000. The idea is that smaller cases should be handled by the state, not by federal prosecutors.

Critics, however, say the $50,000 figure is arbitrary and that it has not been studied.

Meanwhile, supporters of the bill say the legislation is not about painting law enforcement in a negative light. They argue it’s about ending a failed drug war that is benefiting law enforcement, while also encouraging transparency.

“We know there are bad actors and we have to talk about that,” said Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, a sponsor of the legislation.

“The fact that they have not been reporting is a problem. The fact that they have been going around the state process is a problem.”

Supporters of the bill say money seized should be applied to criminal justice reform, including fueling programs that combat the opioid epidemic.

But police say the bill would handicap their ability to fight crime by forcing agencies away from outsourcing cases to the federal government. Some prosecutors also fear that they are headed down a road where they would eventually have to hire staff just to handle forfeiture litigation.

The Colorado Springs Police Department said had the bill been in place during cases since 2012, the department would not have received federal equitable sharing in 85 percent of cases. Local officers spent over 42,000 hours investigating cases with federal partners.

But Herod said the alternative is that the legislature comes back next year and discusses a complete elimination of the state’s participation in forfeiture cases.

“It’s important to note that we need to pass this bill or we’ll see bills in the future that say we need to get rid of asset forfeiture altogether,” Herod said. “Quite frankly, they might have that support.”


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 11, 20173min412

One of the more controversial tools that law enforcement agencies have acquired in the era of the war on drugs — seizing cash and property they believe to be associated with a crime — will have to better account for itself under bipartisan legislation now on its way to Gov. John Hickenlooper for his signature.

House Bill 1313 got final approval from the legislature on Wednesday, the last day of the 2017 session.

Billed as “civil forfeiture reform,” HB 1313 requires all state law enforcement agencies to report to the Department of Local Affairs on all cases of civil asset forfeiture. The department is charged with aggregating and displaying the data on its website in an easily searchable format.

The database will disclose the reason for contact with law enforcement that led to the seizure, the status of any pending investigation into a suspected crime, a description of assets seized, and for what the proceeds are being used.

That particular provision — getting on the record law enforcement’s eventual use of the property or cash it seizes  — addresses long-standing concerns about the extent to which law enforcement has come to view civil-asset forfeiture as a cash cow. A range of civil-liberties advocacy groups spanning the political spectrum, from the American Civil Liberties Union on the left to the Cato Institute on the right, have called for reform and even repeal of law enforcement’s power to seize the assets of mere suspects in crimes.

HB 1313 doesn’t go nearly so far; it does, however, add a degree of accountability that is arguably absent from the process in Colorado.

By the way, the legislation also limits local law enforcement from sharing funds from forfeitures in multi-jurisdictional operations; proceeds only can be shared in cases that involve a seizure that’s $50,000 or more in value, requiring forfeitures under that amount to follow state forfeiture procedures.

The broad-based philosophical appeal of the reform is reflected in the bill’s wide-ranging sponsorship: Reps. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, and Stephen Humphrey, R-Severance, and Sens. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, and Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village.

A press statement issued by the Senate GOP Wednesday quotes Neville:

“Colorado’s men and women in blue take on a tremendous responsibility in their service to our state, and we should lend them every tool in our arsenal to ensure that they are able to continue to perform their duties and keep our communities safe. … Whenever we can come together in a bipartisan fashion to strengthen constitutional rights for Coloradans and increase transparency and accountability in government, we are achieving exactly what Coloradans have tasked us with as public servants.”


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John TomasicJohn TomasicFebruary 13, 201710min366

Lawmakers today embark on their sixth week of the session. <a href="http://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/deadlineschedule.pdf" target="_blank">Eleven weeks to go</a>. What’s on the schedule at the gold dome this week? The “Most Accessed Bills” box on the General Assembly website offers a snapshot. It includes Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg’s <a href="http://leg.colorado.gov/bills/sb17-035" target="_blank">SB 35</a>, a “fracktavist beware” bill that would hike penalties for tampering with oil and gas equipment. The Senate agriculture and energy committee will hear the bill on Thursday. and Sen. Andy Kerr’s <a href="http://leg.colorado.gov/bills/sb17-099" target="_blank">SB 99</a>, which would add Colorado to the list of National Popular Vote Agreement states. The bill will be heard Wednesday in the Senate’s State Affairs committee. Eleven states that control 165 electoral college votes have so far <a href="http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/status" target="_blank">signed on</a>. The agreement would take effect once it secures commitments from states that represent a majority of electoral votes -- that's 270 electoral college votes. So, at this point, the proposal needs to win over states that can deliver a total of 105 more electoral college votes. That's not impossible. Imagine, presidential candidates would actually have to campaign again in more than four or five swing states.