Florida: Senate Unanimously Passes Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

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The Florida Senate on Friday voted unanimously to approve SB 1044, which reforms the state’s “Contraband Forfeiture Act.” Introduced by Sen. Jeff Brandes, the bill now heads to Florida House of Representatives for a floor vote.

The House companion, HB 889, passed its final committee of reference last week. The two bills are identical as amended and if HB 889 passes, civil asset forfeiture reform will head to Gov. Scott to be signed into law.

Civil asset forfeiture reform is a core national policy priority of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and Florida is a state the group has specifically targeted for reform.

“This is a tremendous step towards reforming Florida’s outdated forfeiture laws," said Theshia Naidoo, senior staff attorney for the DPA. "The unanimity of the Senate vote speaks volumes to the necessity of these important reforms. The House needs to act quickly to pass this law when it meets next week.”

“The broad, bipartisan coalition that Sen. Jeff Brandes built in the Florida Senate is what made these reforms possible," said attorney Ron Book, who represents the DPA in the Florida Legislature. "This legislation heads to the House with consensus amongst both parties, law enforcement, and reform advocates. We hope the House will act with the same unanimity that the Senate just did.”

The momentum of asset forfeiture reform legislation is the result of a compromise negotiated between law enforcement groups, led by the Florida Sheriff’s Association and reform advocates including DPA, Americans for Forfeiture Reform, Americans for Tax Reform, ACLU, the Institute for Justice, the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and other organizations.

In an OpEd published in Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, Sheriff Jim Manfre of Flagler County, wrote, “HB 889 and SB 1044 seek to correct some issues with forfeiture, and do so in a way that still allows sheriffs and police departments to utilize this important crime-fighting tool. I hope the Legislature will pass these bills and that Gov. Scott will sign into law this set of reforms...”

President and founder of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist, in an OpEd published in the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, also advocated strongly for these reforms in Florida. He wrote, “Florida is not a tin pot dictatorship. It is also not a dystopia. It is an American state that has demonstrated respect for the taxpayer and respect for the rule of law. This makes the need to ensure civil liberties all the more important. Tallahassee should be a leader on civil asset forfeiture and now, with this new focus on due process, it has a perfect opportunity to do so.”

The full text of Sheriff Manfre’s op-ed can be found online at: http://www.newsjournalonline.com/article/20160228/OPINION/160229541/1010...

The full text of Grover Norquist’s op-ed can be found online at: http://www.sunsentinel.com/opinion/fl-gncol-oped03003-20160302-story.html

DPA’s fact sheet on civil asset forfeiture reform can be found online at: http://www.drugpolicy.org/resource/civil-asset-forfeiture

Graphic: Florida Politics