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Marianne GoodlandMarianne GoodlandOctober 2, 20179min413
The first day of the General Assembly’s special session held no surprises for anyone who listened to Senate Republicans early Monday morning: as expected, a bill to fix a drafting error in a measure from the 2017 regular session, went down on a party-line 3-2 vote. In a vote less than an hour later, the […]

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 12, 20174min367

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, 20173min474

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.”



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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