Sen. Kyle D. Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) Thursday unveiled the details of his legislative efforts to reform Oklahoma’s civil asset forfeiture laws.
In May, Loveless introduced Senate Bill 838, the Personal Asset Protection Act. The bill has been the subject of intense debate during the interim.
“I have heard a lot of concern from district attorneys and from some in the law enforcement community about my fight to protect private property rights and due process. This new language is an attempt to address some of those concerns while not compromising my goals for reform,” said Loveless.
The bill package includes three stand-alone bills and one omnibus reform bill.
“The new language still requires a criminal conviction before the government can forfeit property, but it provides for five exemptions to this requirement including the death of the owner or the owner was given immunity as part of a plea agreement,” said Loveless. “The government currently has the ability to forfeit personal property without proving a crime was committed in a court of law. My legislation corrects that but leaves the authorities with some flexibility.”
Another major difference in the legislation involves where the forfeited proceeds are deposited. The original version sent the funds to the state’s General Revenue Fund.
“My intention is to remove the direct profit incentive of forfeiture. An agency shouldn't be able to grow its budget based on how much property it takes. At the same time, the state’s General Revenue Fund shouldn’t rely on that either,” said Loveless. “I want to create a new fund that would be run by a citizen oversight board with funds being used to address our state’s continued drug crisis.”
The 15-person board would issue grants from the fund to drug treatment facilities, drug courts and law enforcement agencies.
“This updated proposal to reform civil asset forfeiture laws shows Senator Loveless’ willingness to listen to all sides and work hard to bring people together,” said Trent England, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. “While many would like to see
even more reforms and a few seem bent on opposing any changes at all, Senate Bill 838 is a healthy middle ground where reasonable people can agree and move ahead.”
Loveless’ reform efforts have garnered support from a wide range of organizations over the last several months including the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and the Oklahoma Policy Institute.
"We've already seen too many examples of civil asset forfeiture being abused in Oklahoma and around the nation,” said Gene Perry, Director of Policy for the Oklahoma Policy Institute. “Reforms to ensure due process will help to restore trust in our justice system and make sure law enforcement has the right incentives for keeping us safe.”
Other supporters include the ACLU of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma City branch of the NAACP and the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association.
"The latest version of the Personal Asset Protection Act contains reforms that can better protect the civil rights of Oklahomans and provide for a better system for Oklahoma law enforcement,” said Brady Henderson, Legal Director of the ALCU of Oklahoma. “For the first time in our state, it provides a way for innocent victims of a wrongful government seizure to recover a portion of their costs in court. Likewise, it remedies a serious conflict of interest and lack of transparency that stands in the way of citizens' ability to trust those charged with protecting our communities.”
The legislative session begins February 1.