Today, the Pennsylvania General Assembly is voting on Senate Bill 869 which, if passed, would increase due process rights for innocent property owners in civil forfeiture cases and preserve the ability for police officers to confiscate illicit profits of actual offenders.

Pennsylvania police collect about $10.9 million on forfeitures alone per year on average. Police also seized over $118 million from property owners between 2000 and 2013.

The proposal, introduced by Senator Folmer (R-48), would increase the standard of proof to “clear and convincing evidence,” and simplify asset forfeiture laws in one chapter of the Pennsylvania Code to increase transparency for the practice. It also requires reporting on seized assets so community members can track the final location of money received from the sale of confiscated assets.

Americans for Tax Reform sent the Assembly a letter of support yesterday where President Grover Norquist stated:

On behalf of Americans for Tax Reform and our supporters across Pennsylvania, I write today in strong support of Senate Bill 869 that, if passed, would advance the Fifth Amendment rights of your constituents…

Innocent property owners in Pennsylvania have had their entire homes seized based on accusations that their family members sold drugs in the property. Property rights are integral to liberty, they must be better protected.

To help curb these abuses, the new law would increase the standard of proof from “preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing.” Though ultimately a conviction should be required of any asset forfeiture, this shift of the burden of proof balances the onus against the state in a positive way.

Moreover, these new reforms would simplify the asset forfeiture laws, placing them in one chapter of the Pennsylvania Code, which will help enhance transparency and rationalize the practice. SB 869 also requires increased reporting on seized assets, so that legislators in Harrisburg, and their constituents, can keep better track of the funding police agencies get from the sale of confiscated assets.

Police forces need the trust of their communities to do their jobs effectively. Civil asset forfeiture, erodes that trust and antagonizes innocent civilians. These reforms help to restore trust in local and state police by reassuring constituents that their civil liberties are paramount in Pennsylvania law.

I encourage you to extend your support for this important legislation.”

Find a copy of the full letter here.