Hearing Set for Civil Asset Forfeiture Bill by the Kansas Judiciary Council

finney-civil-asset-forfeit-reform-a.pngIt's been twenty-four years since the original Kansas Standard Asset Forfeiture and Seizure Act was passed in 1994. Under this act, a Kansas law enforcement agency is authorized to seize property and cash the agency alleges is involved with certain criminal activity.

There has been much discussion nationally of civil asset forfeiture, and a number of states have reformed their forfeiture laws in varying ways over the last few years.

The House Judiciary Committee has set Jan. 24-25 to hear the highly anticipated Civil Asset Forfeiture compromise bill by the Kansas Judicial Council. The committee meets at 3:30 pm in room 112-N.

In 2015 and 2016, three bills were introduced in the Kansas Legislature, 2015 HB 2271 (would have required a criminal conviction before forfeiture), 2016 HB 2638 (would have required a criminal conviction and would change where all forfeiture proceeds are deposited), and 2016 HB 2699 (would have changed where proceeds are deposited, but did not apply to state law enforcement agencies). None of the bills were granted a hearing.

At the request of Representative Gail Finney, Legislative Post Audit (LPA) conducted a performance audit, the report of which was released in July 2016, entitled Seized and Forfeited Property: Evaluating Compliance with State Law and How Proceeds Are Tracked, Used, and Reported.”

LPA evaluated the processes for property seizures and forfeitures of six law enforcement agencies:

  • Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI)
  • Kansas Highway Patrol (KHP)
  • Coffeyville Police Department
  • Iola Police Department
  • Salina Police Department
  • Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office.

LPA’s audit reported a few problem areas, including that all six agencies lacked important controls for tracking forfeiture proceeds, and the local law enforcement agencies did not comply with statutory reporting requirements. To remedy this issue, LPA recommended consideration of legislation to require and enforce a more centralized reporting structure or eliminating the reporting requirement altogether.

LPA also recommended the Legislature clarify K.S.A. 60-4117(d)(3), relating to whether law enforcement agencies are authorized to use forfeiture proceeds to pay ongoing and recurring operating expenses.

Finally, the LPA report discussed a conflict of interest in one county, in which the county attorney declined taking forfeiture cases in his role as county attorney, but agreed to take them instead in his alternative role as a private attorney.

In 2017, five bills were introduced in the Kansas House. Three of the House bills were identical to bills introduced in the Senate.

House Bill 2001, which is a mirror-image to Senate Bill 1 (both introduced in 2017), was introduced by the LPA Committee and would have eliminated the requirement in K.S.A. 60-4117(d)(2) for local law enforcement agencies to annually report the amount of forfeited property received and how those proceeds were expended.

House Bill 2459, introduced in the 2018 Legislation Session, would amend the Kansas Standard Asset Seizure and Forfeiture Act.

This new bill would:

  1. Require the KBI to establish a repository on or before July 1, 2019, which would collect information related to asset seizure activities and forfeiture funds;
  2. Create reporting requirements for law enforcement agencies regarding assets seized and forfeited to the agency;
  3. Require the KBI to establish a website to make information reported by law enforcement agencies available to the public;
  4. Extend the amount of time an owner or interest holder of forfeited property must request an exemption from forfeiture from 30 to 60 days;
  5. Prohibit the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) from receiving a fee for handling forfeiture cases referred from other law enforcement agencies;
  6. Specify the special, additional law enforcement purposes for which forfeiture funds can be used by agencies;
  7. Allow a court to draw an adverse inference from a claimant’s or owner’s assertion of the right against self-incrimination; and
  8. Prohibit a county attorney, district attorney, or the Attorney General from referring forfeiture cases to attorneys with whom they have a financial interest.

For more information, please click here to check out the proposed civil asset forfeiture bill.

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