Ohio and Michigan both kick off 2017 with asset-forfeiture reform

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Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, opened the new legislative session last week by declaring the legislative branch’s job was to improve quality of life for all Ohioans. But it’s clear that the first challenge for state lawmakers is to mitigate the erosion of civilization.

Rosenberger designated legislation to curb domestic abuse as House Bill 1 of the new session. His opening remarks also made note of the immense problem of misused and illegal drugs in Ohio, which now ranks first in the nation in the number of drug-related overdose fatalities.

Ever since the state capital of Columbus famously saw 27 people die from drug overdoses during a single 24-hour period in September—following closely on the heels of the viral photo of the East Liverpool, Ohio couple who overdosed in the front seat of an SUV with the woman’s grandchild secured in a safety seat behind them—Sen. Rob Portman, U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi and the Ohio General Assembly have been vocal about the need to find answers to Ohio’s tragic opiate-addiction problem.

At the biannual Impact Ohio Post Election Conference in Columbus, Scott Schertzer—mayor of Marion, a beautiful little town 45 miles northeast of Columbus—detailed how even cities like his are reeling to marshal the resources needed to keep drug abuse from upending small-town life. If we could mitigate the impacts of drug abuse, the results would be measurable improvements in education, health care, public housing, transportation, the criminal justice system, poverty rates and maybe even overall economic productivity.

But as we search for solutions, we also must be cognizant of likely impediments. Every policy tool must be assessed by whether it does the job for which it was designed. Currently in Ohio, law enforcement can seize private property believed to have been used in the commission of a crime through civil actions, even where the accused has not been convicted, or sometimes even where no charges are filed.

Earlier this month, at the urging of the Buckeye Institute, the national Right on Crime coalition, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, the U.S. Justice Action Network and other committed public policy organizations, the Ohio General Assembly passed and Gov. John Kasich signed reform legislation that reforms rules around civil asset forfeiture.

For its part, Michigan took two tries to fix the asset-forfeiture situation, the first in 2015. More recently, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a law earlier this month abolishing the requirement that defendants must post a 10 percent bond within 20 days of having their property seized to start the process of getting their property back.

Against the backdrop of what might be the worst environment for law enforcement in decades, perhaps reforms like these will help to ease negative perceptions of policing, helping us all get down to important matters for which we badly need law enforcement’s help.


Image by michiganfootballprograms.com

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