Krista Chavez

ATR Supports Alaskan State Rep. Wilson’s H.B. 317 to Reform Asset Forfeiture Laws

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016, 3:26 PM PERMALINK

Civil asset forfeiture is a common issue that is self-evidently abusive. For this reason, Americans for Tax Reform is endorsing Alaska’s new asset forfeiture reform bill, H.B. 317, introduced by Rep. Tammie Wilson (R-North Pole).

The proposal calls for a conviction before law enforcement can keep any seized assets permanently. To reflect the criminal nature of forfeitures, the standard of proof would also be raised. Profit incentives would also be removed to enforce legislative oversight for the state’s police budgets.

In the United States, approximately $5 billion were seized by law enforcement in 2014 alone. Most of these seizures came without convictions. Alaskan police can currently take citizens’ cash, car, or firearms based solely on the suspicion of a crime. In some cases, law enforcement can keep up to 100 percent of the proceeds from a forfeiture.

This does not protect the rights granted to U.S. citizens. The Fourth and Fifth Amendments protect due process and property rights.

Read an excerpt below of ATR’s letter to Rep. LeDoux:

“On behalf of Americans for Tax Reform and taxpayers everywhere, I am writing to you to express my strong support of House Bill 317. This bill would reform Alaska’s civil asset forfeiture laws to add additional protections for law-abiding citizens…

HB 317 would provide crucial constitutional protections by requiring that a defendant be convicted of the underlying crime before cash or property can be permanently seized. This provides the necessary due process to ensure fairness while maintaining asset forfeiture as a tool for law enforcement. Standards of proof would also be raised to reflect the criminal nature of forfeitures.

Transparency requirements would also be bolstered in addition to removals of profit incentives to ensure legislative oversight over the state’s police budgets. Police departments should not self-fund outside of the legislature: its common sense…

Wyoming, Michigan, Maryland, New Mexico, and Florida are just some of the many states that have taken asset forfeiture seriously. Alaska should join the growing club of states that put their citizens’ rights first.

I implore your colleagues to extend their personal support for this important legislation. For more information, please contact Jorge Marin in my office at jmarin@atr.org."     

-Grover Norquist

President, Americans for Tax Reform                                                                     

 

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Taxpayer Dollars Used to Fund ‘Feminist Glaciology’ Research

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Wednesday, March 16th, 2016, 4:20 PM PERMALINK

Through a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation (a taxpayer-funded organization), the University of Oregon conducted a study examining, “The feminist glaciology framework (that) generates robust analysis of gender, power, and epistemologies in dynamic social-ecological systems, thereby leading to more just and equitable science and human-ice interactions.” No wonder why so many Americans are angry with the Federal government.

The authors define Feminist glaciology as a study that “asks how knowledge related to glaciers is produced, circulated, and gains credibility and authority across time and space. It simultaneously brings to the forefront glacier knowledge that has been marginalized or deemed ‘outside’ of traditional glaciology.”

Its purpose is therefore to recognize the parallels between gender and glacier discrimination because scientific research, “stems from information produced by men, about men, with manly characteristics, and within masculinist discourses.”

The University of Oregon issued a statement about the research that said, “The long-running reliance on knowledge produced from the perspectives of natural science, the researchers concluded, have marginalized the voices of women and cultures around the world that have lived in the shadow of glaciers.”

Although the report does offer valuable findings like, “flooding from a glacial lake with an increase of sexually transmitted infections in women,” they are overshadowed by attacks on sex, capitalism, and marginalization.

Taxpayers should not be forced to provide money for programs that do not further the progress of American citizens. While the U.S. in 2016 is estimated to sit on a $544 billion deficit, a $14 trillion public debt, and a gross federal debt today of about $19,152,873,294,000, the U.S. cannot continually waste money. By the end of FY2016, total government debt in the U.S., including federal, state, and local debts, is estimated to be $22.4 trillion.

As a nation, we can no longer afford to ignore these numbers. They continue to significantly increase daily, and legislators need to think more about decreasing spending rather than increasing instability for citizens. 

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Wyoming Steps Towards Supporting Civil Liberties in Asset Forfeiture Reform

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Thursday, March 3rd, 2016, 2:09 PM PERMALINK

In a unanimous vote (60-0) to support the rights of citizens, the Wyoming House of Representatives approved Senate File 46 to reform the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws, followed by a signature from Gov. Matt Mead (R) two days ago.

Civil asset forfeiture is a legal process that empowers law enforcement to seize and claim property suspected of being connected to a crime: no conviction required. Critics of asset forfeiture, of which Americans for Tax Reform is one, express concern that the practice creates incentives for police abuse while violating property rights. 

Although the law does not require the authorities to gain a criminal conviction before seizing property, it does require several steps before judges can allow property to be seized. First, it demands that law enforcement contacts the attorney general before conducting the seizure. A judicial hearing would then occur within 30 days to determine sufficient probable cause to continue with the seizure.

The law shifts the burden of proof to law enforcement to prove “clear and convincing evidence” that the property was involved in a crime in order to be seized. It also specifies if property is wrongfully forfeited, the court must cover legal fees and award damages to the property owner.

According to the Wyoming Liberty Group, total amounts seized by law enforcement in 2010 was $272,589.84. From 2008-2013, officers seized a total of $2,868,032.31 from citizens. Only a little more than $1 million of this was refunded to citizens.  

When the bill came to Gov. Matt Mead’s desk, the legislature remembered his previous veto of a 2015 bill that required a criminal conviction before property could be seized. Mead previously stated that “he didn’t know of any issues with the state’s current asset forfeiture law,” when he issued the veto. Signing this bill into law is a step towards fair laws for citizens in Wyoming in a system that previously received a “C” from the Institute for Justice’s Policing for Profit report.

Americans for Tax Reform applauds the Wyoming Legislature and Mead for supporting the civil liberties of their constituents and voting in favor of Senate File 46.

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Former 9/11 NYC Police Chief: “Something is definitely wrong with our criminal justice system”

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Posted by Jorge Marin, Krista Chavez on Friday, February 19th, 2016, 9:20 AM PERMALINK

Former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik sent a letter to Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) this week regarding his stance on sentencing reform. This comes in response to Sen. Cotton’s opposition to the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRACA) introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Senator Cotton, who has been a staunch ally of the taxpayers, is critical of some of the sentencing changes found in the reform package. However, there is a growing consensus that the reforms in the Senate package would enhance overall safety rather than hurt it.

Kerik—who spent time in prison—took special issue with Sen. Cotton’s characterization of the intent of the bill, as the senator framed SRACA as a “criminal leniency bill.” Kerik states that  

As anyone that’s as familiar with our criminal justice system as I am, or who has worked within, or lived within a prison knows all too well, there is nothing lenient about the deprivation of freedom. Nothing.

He goes on to point out the staggering failure of a justice system that is more likely to release a reoffender than a reformed member of society

There is a reason, as you [Sen. Cotton] have stated, that more than half of those released are rearrested within a year, and 77 percent are rearrested within 5 years, but it has nothing to do with mandatory minimums. It is because we send these people to prison demanding that they act like men and women, but treat them like children and animals.

SRACA strives to reduce America’s crime rate as it restructures some drug sentences while investing in proven rehabilitation programs for non-violent offenders. Rather than simply warehousing low level offenders for long periods of time, SRACA focuses resources on the people who pose the biggest threat to society and provides treatment to the folks least likely to reoffend. Similar approaches have resulted in shrinking prison populations in concert with plummeting crime rates in several red states.

The reforms would be aimed at cases like Celestia Mixon’s, who was sentenced in 2009 with a 15 year mandatory minimum sentence for conspiracy to sell small amounts of methamphetamines. The judge who sentenced Celestia opted for the lowest possible sentence because current law did not allow him to take the positive strides in her life she had already been making into consideration. Cases like Celestia’s are not unique, and the public benefit of storing her in prison for 15 years is dubious.

While there are now many proven instances of successful reform at the state level, the actual link between the excessive mandatory minimums that Senator Cotton advocates for is tenuous. This is why leading conservative voices have already come out in support of overall reform. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson—a committed reformer—has been a vocal supporter of mandatory minimum reform. Former US Attorney General Michael Mukasey is likewise supportive of Senator Grassley’s reform package.

Polling conducted by the US Justice Action Network shows overwhelming public support for reform. About 70 percent of voters in select swing states express support for a justice system that emphasizes treatment and appropriate sentence lengths. Hopefully, Congress will listen to state legislators and their own constituents on this issue.

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ATR Commends the Florida Senate on Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Thursday, February 11th, 2016, 4:59 PM PERMALINK

Florida Senate Bill 1044 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee today with a 5-2 vote today. The proposal would attempt to fix Florida’s lax civil asset forfeiture rules in favor of stricter protections for property rights and due process. State law enforcement receives close to $20 million per year in confiscations through asset forfeiture thanks in part to some of the weakest protections against arbitrary forfeiture in the nation. Currently, agencies are not required to report the amount of assets seized leading to a blurred system that violates citizens’ rights.

Under the new law, law enforcement would be required to have a conviction of a crime and proof that the property in question was connected to the crime for assets to be seized. The legislature should now take up forfeiture reform and take their place among the states willing to put their residents first.

Read the full endorsement below:

Dear Chairman Diaz,

State legislatures across America have been changing their laws concerning the controversial practice of “civil asset forfeiture.” Now, Florida has an opportunity to be a national standard-bearer on due process protections. Americans for Tax Reform is proud to endorse SB 1044—a bipartisan bill that would secure the property rights of Floridians from arbitrary seizures from overzealous authorities.

Florida has some of the weakest protections for property in the nation—leading to a staggering $20 million per year in confiscations through asset forfeiture. Since agencies are not required to report the actual amount of assets seized, the full amount is unclear.

This is unacceptable.

Agencies should not have the ability to fund themselves by confiscating the property of innocent individuals. The founders established Fifth Amendment due process protections for this very reason.

Civil asset forfeiture is the kind of system which undermines the trust between hardworking law enforcement and their communities. By leaving the door open to arbitrary abuse, mutual trust between communities and the men and women tasked to protect them is compromised. In a country based on the rule of law, no one should fear that they could be deprived of their property without the opportunity to defend themselves.

Furthermore, the perverse incentive created by civil forfeiture encourages law enforcement to profiteer from the communities rather than fight crime as they were meant to do.

Senate Bill 1044, written by senators Jeff Brandes, Joe Negron, and Jeff Clemens allows for asset forfeiture but under the necessary conditions required to protect the rights of the innocent. The new law would require both a conviction of a crime and proof that the property in question was connected to the crime for assets to be seized and appropriated.

I encourage the both the committee and the legislature to support SB 1044. Civil asset forfeiture was an old idea poorly implemented and damaging to both police departments and communities. With this legislation, Florida can be considered a national leader in due process and civil rights. If you have any questions, please contact ATR’s criminal justice manager Jorge Marin at jmarin@atr.org.

Sincerely,

Grover G. Norquist                                                    

President                                                                    

Americans for Tax Reform      

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ATR Supports Civil Asset Forfeiture Legislation in Maryland

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Thursday, February 11th, 2016, 11:00 AM PERMALINK

Last month, Maryland passed legislation to improve the state’s due process protections against the controversial practice of civil asset forfeiture. Now the Maryland State Senate is considering a new proposal to prohibit state law enforcement from Maryland State Senator Michael J. Hough (R).

Senator Hough presented S.B. 161 in the Judicial Proceedings committee on Thursday along with Sens. Jamie Raskin (D) and Bobby Zirkin (D). It would require criminal conviction and proof that the seized property was connected to the crime committed. The proposed reform also improves reporting standards of forfeited assets. 

Click here for the full endorsement, excerpt below:

"Dear Chairman Vallario,

State leaders from New Mexico, to Michigan, to North Carolina have been rolling back the confiscatory practice known as “civil asset forfeiture.” Now, Maryland is set to become a national standard in property rights protection. Americans for Tax Reform is proud to endorse SB 161—a bipartisan bill designed to ensure the protection of Fifth Amendment Rights for Marylanders...

"Civil asset forfeiture, like the overcriminalization of normal every-day activities and the use of excessive fines and fees casts a shadow of our nation’s police. The sad truth is that by leaving the door open to arbitrary abuse, the trust between communities and the men and women tasked to protect them is eroded. There is simply no justification for relying on men and women who have not been convicted of a crime to either fund the government or simply give up their property without proof of guilt...

"I encourage the both the committee and the legislature to support SB 161. Civil asset forfeiture was an old idea poorly implemented and damaging to both police departments and communities. With this legislation, Maryland can be considered a national leader in due process and civil rights. If you have any questions, please contact ATR’s criminal justice manager Jorge Marin at jmarin@atr.org."                                           

-Grover G. Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform

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WASTE ALERT: Pentagon Loses $800 Million in Failed Afghanistan Program

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Thursday, January 28th, 2016, 11:10 AM PERMALINK

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported last week that the Department of Defense could not explain the failure of its $800 million taxpayer-funded budget implemented by the Pentagon with the goal of producing economic growth and stabilization in Afghanistan.

“Over the past two years, SIGAR has received more complaints of waste, fraud, and abuse relating to TFBSO activities than for any other organization operating in Afghanistan,” Alexander Bronstein, a SIGAR representative, noted during a brief to the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support.  

The report stated that the project did not produce the necessary goals of the project due to several unnecessary problems and repeated mistakes.

“A lack of strategic direction and inconsistent management resulted in a scattershot approach to economic development,” Bronstein stated, “the program’s director Paul Brinkley told SIGAR that he approved programs without knowing what they would cost.”

Since 2009, Congress appropriated nearly $823 million to the program until funding ceased in September 2015. All program operations ended on March 30, 2015.

Another task force displayed further Pentagon corruption. This project examined by SIGAR originally intended to build a $3 million gas station in Afghanistan ended up actually spending $43 million in construction and “overhead” costs from 2011-2014. SIGAR released this information in a 2015 congressional hearing.

"At a time of growing threats and constrained defense budgets, this kind of mismanagement is simply unacceptable, and I look forward to hearing from the Pentagon on what specific steps it will take to prevent such an egregious waste of tax dollars in the future," Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) stated.

This is yet again a ridiculous example of unchecked waste in Pentagon spending. Failure to correctly distribute a multi-million dollar taxpayer-funded budget displays the necessity of auditing the such an organization. Without thoroughly examining the allocations of the Department of Defense, there will continue to be massive corruption in spending, and the American taxpayer will remain abused.

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist advocated for a Pentagon audit, stating that “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.” 

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