Civil asset forfeiture bill awaits governor's decision deadline on Friday

DENVER — Gov. John Hickenlooper has until 5 p.m. on Friday to make a decision about a bill that challenges the way property is seized and sold. The governor will have to do one of three things by the Friday deadline: sign the bill, veto the bill or do neither and the bill will automatically become law.

HB 17-1313 is about civil asset forfeiture, which is when law enforcement agencies can seize, keep and sell property they believe is involved in a crime. Property can include, but is not limited to homes, vehicles and cash.

Currently, law enforcement agencies can keep 80 percent of the proceeds netted in sales when they use the federal process. The bill pushes for a majority of the control (90 percent) to go through a state process instead, meaning the proceedings would be more localized rather than federal and law enforcement would receive a smaller amount of the proceeds. HB 17-1313 also advocates for property rights if there is no case or no charges.

"Local law enforcement is actually selling property before someone is even showing up to trial. That's a huge problem and so we need to make sure we have reporting, transparency and yes we need penalties for local law enforcement agencies that abuse the process," said bill sponsor Representative Leslie Herod, a Democrat.

The County Sheriffs of Colorado agree with the need for transparency, but do not agree on how they say it could limit task force resources throughout the state.

"A lot of the counties don't have the money to put the supplemental budgets in there to make these drug task forces go, and so that leads to decreased ability to do drug investigations and human trafficking investigations," said Chris Johnson, Executive Director of the County Sheriffs of Colorado.

The American Civil Liberties of Union Colorado released this statement on Tuesday. A portion of the statement reads:

"This argument by the opponents underscores the problem with forfeiture in that many police departments use forfeiture to benefit their bottom lines, making seizures motivated by profit rather than crime-fighting," said ACLU Public Policy Director Denise Maes.

Sponsors say if the governor signs the bill, when assets are seized and forfeited that 50 percent of revenue will go to drug intervention methods.

HB 17-1313 passed by more than three-quarters of the Colorado legislature. Twenty-one states have already gone through asset forfeiture reform.

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