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Rep. Kelly Moller, DFL-Shoreview, said she supports forfeiture reform. But a task force is needed, she said, to get insights from opponents of the original bill’s implementation plan. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

Civil forfeiture task force questioned

The makeup of a proposed civil forfeiture task force has one of the architects of a defeated reform bill wondering why group is so “imbalanced.”

The task force, which was amended into the House public safety bill after a forfeiture reform bill got voted down on the House floor, appears to be dominated by law enforcement.

The 14-member task force includes 10 members with law-enforcement roots. They include the Public Safety commissioner or designee, the BCA chief or designee, a police chief, a sheriff, two peace officers, a conservation officer, a county attorney, a member of the Violent Crime Coordinating Council and the director or designee of the Department of Public Safety’s Office of Justice Programs.

The rest would be lawyers: the state public defender or designee, a defense attorney, a nonprofit public-interest firm lawyer and an attorney representing the ACLU.

“The proposal that is in the House version of [the omnibus bill] has an imbalanced representation,” said Lee McGrath of the Institute for Justice. “We welcome the opportunity, as we always have, to talk to law enforcement. But we’re looking for a meaningful discussion.”

McGrath has worked with lawmakers for years to reform asset forfeitures, in part by moving them out of the civil courts and into criminal courts to be adjudicated alongside the crime that led law enforcement to seize the property in the first place. To keep the seized property or cash, a conviction would have to be secured.

A bill to that effect was offered by Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul. House File 1971 had a bipartisan group of co-authors that included Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, the DFL House co-chair of the Public Safety/Judiciary conference committee.

“There is no need to engage in the unnatural act of civil forfeiture,” McGrath said last week. “When an arrest occurs, to split the person from his assets is unneeded—the person, the currency, the car should all travel the same judicial system.”

The task force that superseded the Lesch bill was championed by Rep. Kelly Moller, DFL-Shoreview, a Hennepin County prosecutor.

Her task force alternative was discussed for less than two minutes during a three-hour May 9 conference committee hearing during which 23 House policy bills were vetted.

There, Moller said that she supports forfeiture reform. But the task force was needed, she said, to get insights from opponents of the original bill’s implementation plan.

“What we decided was to hit pause and create this task force to really look at how we can best implement forfeiture reform in the state,” Moller said. “Not a one-size-fits-all that perhaps other states have, but how we can best do the work here.”

No one asked any questions after her brief description and the meeting moved onto other subjects.

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