The House plans to debate legislation dealing with the state’s forfeiture statute today. “I think that will be one of the first orders of business we take up,” said House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, on a call with reporters this morning.
The forfeiture legislation, sponsored by Rep. Joe Mullery, DFL-Minneapolis, makes only minimal adjustments to the existing statute and is supported by law-enforcement lobbyists. But Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, is expected to offer a pair of controversial amendments on the floor. She wants to prohibit asset forfeitures except in cases where there’s been a criminal conviction. (Police officers would still be able to seize property for a criminal investigation, but they would have to return it if there’s no conviction.)
Liebling also hopes to alter where the proceeds from asset forfeitures ultimately end up. Currently law-enforcement agencies get to keep 70 percent of the proceeds, creating what some believe is an unseemly profit incentive to take property from individuals. Liebling wants the money to go into a single state pot that would be used to pay for law-enforcement initiatives. She’s said repeatedly that police departments shouldn’t be able to “eat what they kill.”
Law-enforcement interests, most notably the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, are adamantly opposed to Liebling’s proposals. The Senate previously passed a forfeiture bill, but the more controversial provisions weren’t part of the legislation.
The debate over the state’s forfeiture statute was prompted in part by revelations about the activities of the Metro Gang Strike Force. A pair of scathing reports issued last year found that the since-disbanded agency routinely seized vehicles, televisions sets, cash and other items from individuals without sufficient justification.