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Forfeiture reform headed to Gov. Scott, but is it in the 2016 mix?

Tuesday, FloridaPolitics.com reported on the stunning victory that Sen. Jeff Brandes’ Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill (SB 1044) saw in the Florida House, passing unanimously in that chamber.

SB 1044 had passed the Senate (also unanimously) this past Friday. The success of this bill – which requires that law enforcement charge someone with a crime before seizing their assets, among other reforms – has been largely credited to Brandes and the compromise he negotiated between the Florida Sheriffs and liberal- and libertarian-minded reform advocates.

Backing the legislation was a coalition of law enforcement and reform advocates that included the Florida Sheriff’s Association, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the Florida ACLU, the Institute for Justice, and the James Madison Institute.

DPA’s political arm, Drug Policy Action, just completed some statewide polling on the issue, which has been shared with Florida Politics.

Drug Policy Action’s poll was conducted by PPP, and surveyed 612 registered Florida voters on Monday and Tuesday. The results should be taken note of by Gov. Rick Scott, who has yet to sign the bill, but also by the Democrats and Republicans running for president, all of whom are in the Sunshine State Wednesday or Thursday for debates ahead of next Tuesday’s primary election.

“Civil asset forfeiture laws are often used by prosecutors and police in ways that most Americans find deeply offensive when they learn about them,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of Drug Policy Action, “but basic awareness of these laws is remarkably low.”

Indeed, Drug Policy Action’s poll showed that only a quarter of Florida voters surveyed were aware of civil asset forfeiture.

I hope and assume that Governor Scott will sign the asset forfeiture reform bill, SB 1044, which both houses of the Legislature just passed unanimously. This is, however, a national issue.

With the presidential primaries fast approaching in Florida, the timing of this bill affords a great opportunity to challenge the candidates on this issue. Each one needs to be asked whether they believe police should be able to seize your personal property without charging you with a crime and then profit from the proceeds of your forfeited property,  Nadelmann said.

The poll shows clearly what the voters think.

Fully 86 percent of Florida voters surveyed, after having been read a description of what current forfeiture laws allow, agree with the statement, “Police should not be able to seize and permanently take away property from people who have not been charged with a crime.” (Brandes’ SB 1044 would reform that piece of the current law.)

But nearly as many – 84 percent – agree with the follow-up statement: “Police should not be able to seize and permanently take away property from people who have not been convicted of a crime,” which the SB 1044 reforms do not address. And 67 percent of voters disagreed with the notion that forfeiture proceeds should be taken as profits by a seizing agency and used for the “purchase of crime fighting equipment.”

Support for those reforms cuts across interest groups, with the very conservative, D.C.-based Americans for Tax Reform, likewise being a strong proponent of changes to civil forfeiture laws in Florida and across the country. Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform, said, “The government should not be allowed to take your stuff – your money, your car, your boat – without so much as charging you with a crime. Today that is not true. As soon as Governor Scott signs [SB 1044] this outrage will begin to end for Floridians.”

“Candidates for president of this country need to start listening to voters on forfeiture,” said Nadelmann, pointing out that 66 percent of Florida voters indicated they would be more likely to support a candidate for president who backed a reform of forfeiture laws. “We’re doing all we can to make sure Americans are fully informed about the un-American nature of these laws and their enforcement.”

As previously noted, only a quarter of Florida voters were aware of forfeiture laws, yet nearly 8 percent in the survey had themselves reported being a victim to police seizures, or personally knew someone who was.

“That nearly 10 percent of Florida voters have reported experiencing forfeiture either first- or second-hand speaks to the abuses that are so rampant when these laws remain unchecked and unreformed,” Nadelmann said.

Civil asset forfeiture may not be “Making America Great Again” or “taking on Wall Street,” but the candidates stumping for votes (and delegates) in the Sunshine State should start to take notice. And Capitol insiders should likewise take notice of DPA, which is making a mark in its first session engaging in Tallahassee.

Written By

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

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