CONCORD, N.H. (May 15, 2017) – A New Hampshire bill that would close a federal loophole allowing state and local police to circumvent stringent state asset forfeiture laws by passing cases off to the feds will go to the Senate floor facing fierce opposition.
Rep, Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont) and Rep. John Burt (R-Goffstown) introduced House Bill 614 (HB614) on Jan. 5. The legislation would prohibit New Hampshire law enforcement agencies or prosecutors from entering into agreements to transfer seized property to a federal agency directly, indirectly, by adoption, through an intergovernmental joint taskforce or by any other means, unless the seized property includes more than $100,000 in cash.
Final passage into law would slam closed in most situations a federal loophole that allows state and local police to get around more strict state asset forfeiture laws.
HB614 will go to the full Senate for consideration on Thursday, May 11, but has an uphill batter after the Senate Judiciary Committee deemed it “inexpedient to legislate” by a 4-1 vote. Despite the committee recommendation, the bill could sill pass the full Senate. It previously cleared the House by a by a vote of 219-139.
The bill faces intense law enforcement opposition. Police claim it would “devastate” their opioid battle. In fact, passage of HB614 would not prevent police from prosecuting drug dealers, or even pursuing asset forfeiture. It would simply ensure law enforcement couldn’t pass most cases off to the feds in order to avoid stricter state asset forfeiture laws that protect due process rights.
“The truth is police just want to protect their asset forfeiture cash-cow,” public policy analyst Michael Boldin said. “It’s about money and department budgets, not protecting everyday people.”
EXPANDING CURRENT RESTRICTIONS
Last year, Gov. Maggie Hassan signed SB522 into law. Under that new law, prosecutors cannot proceed with asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction in most cases. Under the previous law, police could seize assets suspected of being related to a crime and move for forfeiture in a process separate from any criminal case. The forfeiture could be finalized and the alleged criminal case could possibly be dropped. But SB522 left open a loophole that made the reform ineffective in practice. Since federal asset forfeiture standards are much lower, state and local police can simply pass cases to the feds to avoid the new more stringent state laws.
The situation in California was similar until recently. The state has some of the strongest state-level restrictions on civil asset forfeiture in the country, but law enforcement would often bypass the state restrictions by partnering with a federal asset forfeiture program known as “equitable sharing.” Under these arrangements, state officials would simply hand over forfeiture prosecutions to the federal government and then receive up to 80 percent of the proceeds—even when state law banned or limited the practice. According to a report by the Institute for Justice, Policing for Profit, California ranked dead last of all states in the country between 2000 and 2013 as the worst offender. In other words, California law enforcement was passing off a lot of cases to the feds and collecting the loot. During the 2016 legislative session, the state closed the loophole.
Passage of HB614 would close the loophole in New Hampshire in most situations and significantly increase protections for the state’s property owners.
As the Tenth Amendment Center previously reported the federal government inserted itself into the asset forfeiture debate in California. The feds clearly want the policy to continue.
We can only guess. But perhaps the feds recognize paying state and local police agencies directly in cash for handling their enforcement would reveal their weakness. After all, the federal government would find it nearly impossible to prosecute its unconscionable “War on Drugs” without state and local assistance. Asset forfeiture “equitable sharing” provides a pipeline the feds use to incentivize state and local police to serve as de facto arms of the federal government by funneling billions of dollars into their budgets.
If you live in New Hampshire, contact your state senator and urge him/her to support HB614. You can find your senator’s contact information HERE.