Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 12, 20174min372

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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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 11, 20173min485

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.”

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirApril 3, 20172min223
Rooftop solar power at your home or business is becoming more affordable, thanks in part to innovative provider financing, like industry giant SolarCity’s use of leases to defray the up-front cost of installation. Yet, a host of local- and state-government fees on the installations can make the cost of a solar system inch back up. There are state, […]

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMarch 14, 20174min295

The almighty “fiscal note” is a legislative fixture known to just about everybody under the dome. It’s sometimes dreaded, as well. Prepared by the legislature’s nonpartisan policy staff, it is an assessment of the impact every bill has on the state’s budget, and a hefty fiscal note can doom legislation deemed too expensive.

Now, ruling Democrats in the House are proposing to attach a new kind of impact statement to legislation: a “demographic” note. A news release from the House Democratic press office explains:

Demographic notes would be prepared by Legislative Council staff, much as fiscal notes now are. But instead of assessing the financial impact of a bill, a demographic note would show how a bill would impact certain specific populations in Colorado.

House Bill 1191, sponsored by House Majority Leader KC Becker, D-Boulder, and Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, would allow leadership in each of the four legislative caucuses to request demographic notes on up to five bills in a session, for a total of up to 20 bills each session for the whole General Assembly.

The bill passed its first legislative test, the House Finance Committee, on Monday and now heads to the Appropriations Committee.

Becker, quoted in the news release, told Finance Committee members in presenting the legislation that it will provide lawmakers new insights if implemented:

“This legislation is focused on how we can make more informed decisions…If what you really want to see is how a piece of legislation would impact rural Colorado, or seniors, or minorities, you can get that with this bill.”

It’s an interesting idea though they might want to come up with a more embraceable name for it. Maybe “human impact statement”?

So, will it run into a closed door when it reaches the Senate? There, the ruling Republicans are more likely to be interested in a bill’s impact on small business and the overall economy than on specific population groups. Indeed, a GOP bill now pending in the upper chamber, Senate Bill 186, would in a roundabout way require the state government to assess and offset the impact on business before proceeding with new regulations. You might say it’s the Republican counterpart to HB 1191.

“Demographic note”? Meet the GOP’s “regulatory flexibility analysis.” (That buzz phrase could stand some tweaking, too.)

It should be noted the Democrats’ proposal only made it through House Finance on a party-line vote; with the party alignment reversed in the Senate, it may not last long there. Meanwhile, the Republican concern for impact on business may have about the same shelf life once it gets to the Democratic House.

State lawmakers are ready to crack down on something that might not be a problem at all in Colorado — that law enforcement might be taking more than they’re entitled to when criminals forfeit property. “I think it’s more about transparency … than anything else, making sure we focus on everything being reported, so we can […]

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