Jorge Marin

Pennsylvania Should Vote YES on SB 869

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Thursday, June 4th, 2015, 11:00 AM PERMALINK


Civil Asset Forfeiture, the controversial practice wherein the police can confiscate property without a warrant or conviction, is facing a much needed overhaul in Pennsylvania. Senators Mike Folmer and Anthony Williams have introduced SB 869, a bill which would bring Pennsylvania on par with states like New Mexico and Montana.

The Keystone State has struggled with asset forfeitures for too long. Though initially intentioned to prevent drug traffickers from keeping their profits, it has since metastasized into a law enforcement mechanism that creates incentives for police to take and keep property from people without charging them with a crime. Just in the last ten years, Pennsylvania has raked in more than $100 million from seized assets.

What’s more, people under the current regime are liable to lose their homes if someone (not necessarily the owners) does drugs on the property. Last year, a couple lost their house after police arrested their son for possessing “$40 worth of heroin.”

A review of the assets forfeited from 2011 to 2012 revealed that the median amount seized was around $180; not enough for people to go to court over. As a result, it is unusual for the forfeitures to be contested. Over 1,000 houses have already been taken by authorities over the course of a decade, to be used by the very organizations that took them.

The new law would upend that status quo.

Firstly, property would not be forfeited until the proprietor is convicted of a crime. This seemingly common-sense point is long overdue, and ensures that due process is observed when stripping someone of their belongings.

The next major development is the removal of any sort of profit incentive for the seizures. By directing the funds forfeited into the state’s general fund, the state legislature regains oversight over the assets that authorities seize.

Equitable sharing, which allows local police to circumvent state laws, is also curtailed by the new law. It  is a federal procedure by which local police can use federal asset forfeiture rules to seize property and receive up to 80% of the value back.

By using equitable sharing, Pennsylvania authorities were able to score over $50 million from 2000 to 2008, racking up an average of almost $6 million per year. It is unjustifiable to have such a lax legal regime be imposed on states which may not want to be a part of the federal government’s asset forfeiture rules, and Pennsylvania has a shot at fixing that particular situation.

The effort to reform asset forfeiture has also been applauded by the Coalition for Public Safety, of which ATR is a member. Legislators in Pennsylvania should seize this opportunity to fix their asset forfeiture regime and set a precedent for other states looking to do the same.

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Grover Norquist: "Audit the Pentagon"

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Thursday, May 14th, 2015, 4:46 PM PERMALINK


Today, Congressman Michael Burgess (R-Texas) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced an amendment to bring the Pentagon closer to the audit that it owes to the American taxpayer.

If the Pentagon is worried about the lack of funds for maintaining America’s arsenal, then the solution isn’t to break the nation’s finances, but to stop wasting money on projects which are “too big to fail.” Projects like the F-35, which consistently under-perform and increase in cost.

The amendment requires the Department of Defense to submit a list of the departments and agencies which are most prepared for a comprehensive audit. Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist had this to say about the amendment:

All departments of the United States Government are audited--except the Pentagon.  This is not acceptable.  If the management of the Pentagon cannot pass an audit--get new management.

At a time when resources are scarce it is particularly important that we audit the Pentagon to reduce waste and the costs of mismanagement.

All Americans who want our nation strong and secure know that step one is to ensure that all available resources are being spent wisely.  Every wasted dollar is a cut in our preparedness. An audit is the only way to begin to know how much is misspent.

Representative Burgess also weighed in on his amendment:

As the holder of the purse, Congress has a duty to demand transparency,” Rep. Burgess said. “Our amendment will provide Congress with concrete, concise information as to how close each part of DOD is to achieving the goal. No such list currently exists and Congress to date has not required it. This amendment corrects a crucial missing puzzle piece and allows the Congress to execute a chief governmental function: oversight. –Burgess

In a released statement from Representative Lee’s office, the Congresswoman also addresses taxpayer concerns:

Unauditable is unacceptable. It has been more than two decades since the Pentagon was required to undergo an audit and the Pentagon is still reporting that full audit-readiness is years off. This amendment, which also passed last year, requires a ranked list of all departments and agencies by their audit-readiness status. This list will empower Congress to make decisions on next steps to ensure auditability of the Pentagon,” said Congresswoman Lee. “We need greater sunlight and transparency so the American people know how their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent. It’s past time to end waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars in Pentagon spending.

The Pentagon’s books have remained closed for too long, the nation deserves a military establishment that demonstrates a culture of fiscal responsibility and efficiency. Representatives should strongly consider this proposal.

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Montana Continues Trend on Asset Forfeiture

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Monday, May 11th, 2015, 4:22 PM PERMALINK


Montana can count itself in the growing group of states taking on civil asset forfeiture less than a month after New Mexico passed its lauded comprehensive reform. And though Montana’s legislation is not as exhaustive as New Mexico’s, it is nevertheless a giant step in the right direction.

Civil asset forfeiture is a controversial proceeding in which law enforcement authorities are allowed to confiscate property suspected of being used in a crime without a warrant or conviction. Property owners are then left with the options of hiring expensive legal help (for protracted civil proceedings) or writing off the lost property.

The property is then kept by the law enforcement agency that performed the seizure and can be used at their discretion: some argue that this creates an improper incentive for the agencies.

The new regime in Montana does away with the warrantless forfeiture component of the problem. HB 463—the enacted measure—will require a criminal conviction before the property is forfeited. Meaning that in order for the police to keep and use the money, they have to prove its connection with the crime.

The burden of proof on the government, and increasing the standard to “clear and convincing evidence,” gives innocent property owners expanded protections from overzealous forfeiture programs.

Civil asset Forfeiture has seen a dramatic increase of attention from both state legislators and the federal government. Montana has proven that it is prepared to put the interests of its citizens first and foremost. Hopefully this positive trend will continue to expand Fifth Amendment rights across the nation.

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bigcoffinhunter007

there's always your underwater submarine,long,hard and full of seamen.

jack anderson

There go the pension budgets.

hammerstamp

Once again Montana, well done!


Oklahoma Slashes Mandatory Minimums

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Thursday, May 7th, 2015, 1:26 PM PERMALINK


This week Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin signed HB 1518, a bill to reform the state’s minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines.

Far from giving a break to dangerous offenders, the Safety Valve Act gives judges discretion to give low level offenders less severe sentences on a case-by-case basis. Additionally, the act allows judges to place certain offenders into the mental health or drug treatment systems.

By allowing for this kind of sentencing nuance, the Sooner State hopes to rein in one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation. At 659 prisoners per 100,000 residents, Oklahoma has the third highest proportion of its population behind bars of any state.

There is a growing chorus of Red states reforming their prison systems. When Texas passed its own prison reforms in 2007, it saw a decline in their prison population, a massive decline in their crime rate, and savings of $2 billion. Not a bad start from any perspective. Likewise, Georgia saved hundreds of millions after its own reforms.

Combined with the recent easing of occupational licensing rules, Oklahoma now joins these states in the front lines of criminal justice reform.  In her statement, Fallin assured Oklahomans that “Violent criminals will continue to be incarcerated, but the fact is that one in eleven Oklahomans serve time in prison at some point in their lives,” underscoring the urgency of prison population reduction.

Many of our current inmates,” Fallin continued, “are nonviolent offenders with drug abuse and alcohol problems; others have mental health issues. For some of these offenders, long sentences in state prisons increase the likelihood of escalated criminal behavior. This bill gives our judges the freedom they need to divert people who need treatment, rehabilitation and supervision to the appropriate facilities and programs.

Americans for Tax Reform would like to congratulate the Oklahoma legislature, which passed the reform by overwhelming margins, for their historic success. Hopefully, more states will follow suit as the modernization of America’s prisons continues.

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The New Budget: Hits and Misses

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Wednesday, May 6th, 2015, 3:29 PM PERMALINK


Last week congressional Republicans reached an agreement on the budget for the year going forward. The proposal calls for reforms to struggling entitlement programs, clamps down on inefficient and ineffective government programs, and lays the groundwork for strong economic growth.

The most important aspect of any budget is whether it is balanced. The FY2016 conference agreement brings spending restraint to the federal government and creates a $32 billion surplus by 2024—meanwhile no new taxes are levied on individuals. This stands in stark contrast to the $1.44 trillion in new taxes requested in the president’s FY2016 budget.

The new Republican budget agreement also maintains the most important conservative victory in the last five years: the sequester caps. The FY2016 Budget maintains the spending restrictions mandated in the Budget Control Act of 2011, ensuring the continuation of the savings from discretionary spending. Here again the Republican budget agreement stands in stark contrast to the White House budget, which ignores 2011 sequester spending caps and raises spending through misleading promises, the Senate budget abides by federal law. It is important to keep these caps in place; caps that have stabilized federal spending since 2011 and will lead to $1.79 trillion in savings through 2021.

Moreover, the economic benefits of the agreement would help spur our sluggish economy. In total, $400 billion would be added directly into the economy over the next ten years, according to The Congressional Budget Office. After years of lackluster growth, it is time to enact fiscal policies that put the economy back to work.

Unfortunately, not everything about the deal is perfect. In order to appease some of the more hawkish legislators, the Overseas Contingency Operations Fund (OCO) has gotten a very generous increase. OCO is the fund that the pentagon uses to fund overseas engagement…theoretically. Though the Pentagon has requested $50.9 billion for OCO, the budget sets aside $96 billion for the same fund. This extra money will go to pad military budgets without ensuring an equivalent offset somewhere else in the budget.

Examples of OCO’s largesse abound. FY2016 has over $500 million set aside for construction projects that would only be relevant to fighting ISIS if the Air Force were to literally drop buildings (presumably flown over by multiple F-35s) on top of Mosul.

Using the Overseas Contingency Operations Fund as a way to skirt the Budget Control Act’s caps is disingenuous and unfair to taxpayers. Fortunately, there are redeeming qualities to be found in next year’s budget.

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ATR Supports the FAIR Act

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Wednesday, April 15th, 2015, 12:00 AM PERMALINK


On April 14, 2015, Americans for Tax Reform sent a letter to Congress urging law makers to lend their support to the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act (FAIR Act). This landmark reform would effectively end most forms of the controversial practice of civil asset forfeiture at the federal level. States like New Mexico have already demonstrated that comprehensive reform is possible and popular, thus underscoring the urgency for federal reform.

The FAIR Act would be instrumental in restoring trust in our law enforcement officials; moreover it would ensure that those who break the law pay the penalty. Below is the full text of the letter:

 

Dear Senator Paul and Congressman Walberg,

I would like to extend my strong support for Senate Bill 255, the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act (FAIR Act). This proposal would be a monumental leap in the effort to reform the nation’s broken civil asset forfeiture system.

The current asset forfeiture system is broken. Since its expansion in 1984 there has been an explosive growth in the size of the Federal Asset forfeiture Fund. Between 2000 and 2013 alone, the fund grew from over $500 million to over $2 billion; funds that can be used at the discretion of the authorities who seized the property.

Most law enforcement officials are honest individuals who frequently put their own lives at risk to protect their communities. Nevertheless, innocent Americans should not be placed in a situation where their property can be confiscated without hope for due process. The FAIR Act manages to both restore constitutional guarantees to the American public and renovate public trust in the nation’s law enforcement.

The FAIR Act would first address federal budgetary incentives for authorities to seize property. The proposal eliminates the process of Equitable Sharing, which allows local and state law enforcement officials to use federal rules to seize assets. Additionally, the act transfers confiscated funds from the Federal Asset Forfeiture Fund into the general treasury, increasing oversight of the assets by Congress.

Authorities would also be required to prove guilt in order to keep the funds. This change would be coupled with an increase in the burden of proof required from the government to prove guilt. This fundamental change to the status quo would bolster public faith in the rule of law and assure Americans that criminals, not law-abiding civilians, pay the price for broken laws.

Furthermore, the Internal Revenue Service would be limited in their use of structuring laws when seizing money from people’s bank accounts. Structuring allows the IRS to take funds from a bank account when authorities suspect that deposits to the account are made in a way designed to avoid reporting laws. The FAIR Act would only allow forfeiture if the owner of the funds knowingly made the deposits in a way to avoid federal laws.

This new regime takes into account the need to punish law-breakers and the rights of citizens. Simply put, criminals should not enjoy the fruits of their bad behavior, and by requiring proof of wrongdoing we ensure that those who break the law pay up.

Moreover, the proposed reforms serve to bolster the credibility of law enforcement with their local communities. If law-abiding civilians are assured that there is no danger of their property being confiscated, confidence in the rule of law will be strengthened and officers will find it easier to gain the cooperation of their communities. I implore your colleagues to extend their own support for this important legislation. For more information, please contact Jorge Marin in my office at jmarin@atr.org.

Onward,

Grover G. Norquist

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Martinez Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform

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Posted by Jorge Marin, Paul Blair on Friday, April 10th, 2015, 3:54 PM PERMALINK


Americans for Tax Reform would like to applaud Governor Susana Martinez (R-N.M.) and the state legislature for passing historic civil asset forfeiture reform legislation. The governor, a former district attorney, signed HB 560 which passed the legislature unanimously earlier this month. In a recent letter to Martinez, ATR urged the governor to sign this important law:

We ask that you help put an end to a regime that allows authorities to take and keep property from individuals not charged with a crime. By signing the bill, civil asset forfeiture is changed into criminal asset forfeiture; thereby ensuring that criminals, not law-abiding civilians, pay the price for broken laws.

In her a released statement, Martinez asserts “the changes made by this legislation improve the transparency and accountability of the forfeiture process and provide further protections to innocent property owners.”

This is, of course balanced with concern for law enforcement.

She asks that “we… ensure that our law enforcement officers have the training, protection, and tools necessary to fight crime within our borders. The burden is on public officials at every level to ensure that our law enforcement officers are respected for the work they do and have all the resources they need to protect our families.”

Civil asset forfeiture has been in the spotlight as a problematic tool that may invite abuse by some in the law enforcement community; however, New Mexico now finds itself leading the charge in reforms aimed at protecting the constitutional rights of Americans.

Hopefully, lawmakers and politicians will follow New Mexico’s example in protecting both citizens and law enforcement with similar reform legislation.

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Twist: DOJ gets it Right on Civil Asset Forfeiture

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Tuesday, April 7th, 2015, 1:45 PM PERMALINK


Last week the Justice Department issued new rules which seek to address some of the problems with civil asset forfeiture. It may seem like just another Band-Aid on a hopelessly broken system, but the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) new procedures on civil asset forfeiture announced Tuesday show real progress. Prior to these new rules, federal authorities were free to confiscate bank accounts if they suspected the owners to be making “structured deposits,” or deposits designed to avoid reporting requirements.

Small businesses are especially susceptible to asset forfeiture since they make numerous deposits that come just under the $10k reporting threshold.

The DOJ rules reconcile federal policy with more traditional understandings of due process and property rights. Federal authorities will now only seize bank accounts when and if they have determined that a defendant “has been criminally charged or has been found to have engaged in additional criminal activity.” This gives regular Americans an important layer of protection from facing the confiscatory wrath of federal attorneys.

 According to the announcement, if there is not enough evidence to convict an individual of a crime, prosecutors can seek a warrant from a judge if they can prove a probable cause. This apparent loophole in the incentive-fix is addressed by forcing authorities to return confiscated property within 150 days of the appropriation if authorities do not file an indictment.

All of these are excellent developments, but the last line of the press release puts a wet blanket over otherwise great news: “The policy applies to all Department of Justice Attorneys,” meaning the new rules only apply to federal authorities. While it is unreasonable to expect comprehensive and complete reform of the civil asset forfeiture regime, that line reminds the public that only one facet of the problem has been addressed. It will take the combined efforts of the state and federal governments to put this blemish on the national justice system to rest.

The Federal Asset Forfeiture Fund was $2 billion in 2013. For that amount of money they could buy 13 brand new F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters from Lockheed Martin and become a military power over-night. But while having half the budget of Argentina’s military seems like a much-needed boost to crime fighting, most Americans can recognize the problems with collecting such vast sums of money through a mechanism like civil asset forfeiture. Hopefully, this showing by the DOJ will be followed by more smart reforms at the state and federal levels.

Looking at you, New Mexico

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New Mexico Closing in On Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

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Posted by Sven Werner, Jorge Marin on Tuesday, March 31st, 2015, 11:07 AM PERMALINK


On March 30, 2015, Americans for Tax Reform sent a letter to New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez urging her to sign HB 560 into law. The Land of Enchantment is on its way to becoming a role model for reforming the nation’s broken civil asset forfeiture laws. HB 560 would transfer funds obtained through civil asset forfeiture into the state’s general fund and require a criminal conviction in order to confiscate your property.

The bill passed the state legislature unanimously and is waiting to be signed by Gov. Martinez. These changes would bolster the credibility of law enforcement with their local communities, in addition to assuring law-abiding citizens that there is no danger of their property being confiscated. The following is the text of the letter sent to Governor Martinez:

 

March 30, 2015

Dear Governor Martinez,

I write to you today in strong support of HB 560, a bill passed on March 21 that reforms the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws. The bill would transfer funds obtained through civil asset forfeiture into the state’s general fund. Additionally, under the new rules, a criminal conviction would be required to confiscate property under civil asset forfeiture. It is my view that you would be doing New Mexico a service by signing the bill into law.

Having passed all committees and subcommittees unanimously, HB 560 enjoys strong support from both sides of the isle. These votes from the State legislature show the far-reaching appeal of reform, but it isn’t limited to the Senate and House, in fact, according to Rasmussen, 70% of Americans believe that you should be convicted of a crime in order for the police to seize your property.

We ask that you help put an end to a regime that allows authorities to take and keep property from individuals not charged with a crime. By signing the bill, civil asset forfeiture is changed into criminal asset forfeiture; thereby ensuring that criminals, not law-abiding civilians, pay the price for broken laws.

This new regime takes into account the need to punish law-breakers and the rights of citizens. Simply put, criminals should not enjoy the fruits of their bad behavior, and by requiring proof of wrongdoing we ensure that those who break the law pay up.

Moreover, the proposed reforms serve to bolster the credibility of law enforcement with their local communities. If law-abiding civilians are assured that there is no danger of their property being confiscated, confidence in the rule of law will be strengthened and officers will find it easier to gain the cooperation of their communities.

Reforming civil asset forfeiture is a major issue for voters across the United States. By acting now, New Mexico stands to be in the vanguard of states bent on modernizing police practices. Law enforcement should not have to be seen by the public as opportunistic profiteers, this HB 560 ensures the continued safety of civilians, the prosecution of the guilty, and the rule of law in New Mexico.

Sincerely,                               

Grover G. Norquist                                                    

President                                                                   

Americans for Tax Reform                                        

 

 

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New Mexico Fights for Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Monday, March 23rd, 2015, 4:32 PM PERMALINK


The New Mexico legislature passed a bill on Saturday which will change the way authorities are able to seize property under civil asset forfeiture rules. HB 560, introduced by Representative Zachary J. Cook (R-N.M.), is designed to curtail the practice of civil asset forfeiture and ensure that it is only used against criminals while applying strict rules of due process.

Civil asset forfeiture is a process by which authorities are permitted to confiscate the property of an individual suspected of a crime. The key word being suspected, meaning no conviction, warrant, or proof is required to take control of the property. This property, once taken, goes to the department that performed the confiscation, thereby padding their budget.

A person who has their property taken in such a way must engage in lengthy and often times expensive legal proceedings in order to prove the property had no connection to a crime.

Things may soon be different in New Mexico.

Under the new law, authorities will first have to convict an individual of a crime or prove the property was used in a crime in order to take it. Additionally, the money will go to a general state fund instead of the individual police budgets in order to remove the profit incentive.

As it stands the bill only requires the signature of Governor Susana Martinez in order to become law. Given the short legislative sessions in New Mexico, this will likely be the only opportunity to pass such a reform for the next few years. If it passes, HB 560 will become a milestone in the nation-wide effort to change civil asset forfeiture laws.

Billions of dollars have been taken under civil asset forfeiture since the eighties, when the rules were expanded. Though it will take the combined efforts of the state and federal governments to rectify the problem, measures like the one passed over the weekend will go a long way to protect individuals from government overreach.

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