By Rob Poggenklass,Tony Dunn Legal Fellow
The General Assembly may have adjourned in February, but this legislative session is far from over. Thanks to Governor McAuliffe, an important civil liberties issue will go to the floor of the House and Senate for a vote in less than two weeks.
Back in January, we supported HB 1287, a bill that would require a criminal conviction for asset forfeiture. As we said then, “Under Virginia law, law enforcement can pull you over, take your money, and then make you prove that you didn’t get it through ill means.” The bill, sponsored by Delegate Mark Cole of Spotsylvania, drew broad, bipartisan support in the House, where it passed 92-6.
Unfortunately for Virginians, leaders in the Senate bowed to pressure from law enforcement. Law enforcement agencies such as the Virginia State Police support taking money from Virginians without a criminal conviction because it brings them revenue. Several senators used procedural maneuvers to kill the bill in the Senate Finance Committee in February.
Thanks to the governor, however, this important legislation has returned. Another bill that we supported this session, SB 721, would require law enforcement to provide a receipt when they seize property from individuals for purposes of forfeiture. This common sense legislation passed both the House and Senate unanimously.
But rather than sign SB 721, this week the governor returned that bill to the General Assembly with an amendment: require a criminal conviction for asset forfeitures. The governor’s amendment mirrors the text from Delegate Cole’s bill. This will force the Senate to take an up or down vote on civil asset forfeiture (the House did the right thing back in January and we urge them to stand strong again). Will your delegate and senator vote to end policing for profit? Or will they support this abusive, un-American practice, simply because it creates more revenue for law enforcement?
The House and Senate will reconvene on April 15th to act on the governor’s recommendation.
SB 721 would protect the property of innocent Virginians and help end policing for profit.
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