On its last day in session, and after its third reading, the Colorado legislature passed a bill that would reform civil asset forfeiture. The bill passed on its third reading, and would require the executive director of the Department of Local Affairs to produce a biannual report of all assets seized. The Department of Local Affairs was set up in 1966 to assist with local government needs.
The bill would also require a database to be made available to the public of all assets listed in the biannual report, as well as specifying how the funds will be used. The department would also have to submit an annual report to the Governor, as well as the Attorney General.
The bill also says that no seizing agency can receive federal funds unless the value of the property exceeds $50,000, and the seizing must be related to a filed criminal case.
The bill is a bipartisan bill, being primarily sponsored by a Republican and a Democrat from both the House and the Senate. Although it had its final reading and has passed the legislature, it is still awaiting Governor Hickenlooper’s signature.
This bill would currently not affect law enforcement’s ability to confiscate property, regardless of whether it has be used in a crime. However, it is intended to bring greater transparency to the seizing of property, and does create penalties for agencies that do not provide a report detailing assets seized.
A serious effort at civil asset forfeiture reform has been underway throughout much of this legislative session. Earlier this year, critics of civil asset forfeiture were disheartened to find that a civil asset forfeiture reform bill died in committee early this year. This bill represents the culmination of efforts to put forth some sort of bipartisan reform on this issue.
A much more partisan bill was recently passed in Arizona that actually does make it harder for police to confiscate property, and other reform bills have passed in Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio, Mississippi, Florida, and Maryland.
The jury’s out on whether Hickenlooper will sign the bill, but pragmatism may lead him to do just that. Although he was adamantly opposed to Amendment 64, for example, he has recently softened his position on marijuana legalization considerably. Vetoing the law would make him a target by the ACLU, as well. He has 30 days to sign or veto the law, or else it becomes law automatically.