Bills of Note: Civil Asset Forfeiture

A bill (SB 61) to drastically change the civil asset forfeiture law in Wisconsin was introduced on Wednesday, Feb. 22. In the closing weeks of last session, a similar bill advanced but ultimately died in the Assembly. Like last session, the authors of the legislation include Sen. Craig (R-Big Bend), Sen. Nass (R- Whitewater), Rep. Tauchen (R-Bonduel), and Rep. Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake).

The proposed legislation imposes a criminal conviction requirement before property can be seized. The bill also institutes proportional requirements that the court must find that the property seized is proportional to the crime committed. The legislation restricts law enforcement’s participation in the federal asset forfeiture program by limiting the transfer to property over $50,000. Another key provision under the bill is that all proceeds from the sale of forfeited property will be directed to the school fund. Under current law, law enforcement can use 50 percent to cover forfeiture expenses, with the remainder deposited into the common school fund.

A law enforcement coalition, who oppose the changes, immediately issued a memo to the full legislature urging members to not sign on. The coalition, which includes Badger State Sheriffs’ Association, County Law Enforcement Professionals of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, Wisconsin Professional Police Association, and Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association. The law enforcement state in the memo that this legislation will “make it harder to deny criminals the benefits of their illegal activity, deter further criminal activity and impede the work of anti-drug task forces.”

The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform. The companion bill has not been introduced yet.