Whitmer signs bipartisan civil asset forfeiture bills

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Even amid a bitter fight over auto insurance legislation, lawmakers from Michigan’s two major parties came together on Thursday to celebrate the enactment of long-awaited criminal justice reform bills.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs the civil asset forfeiture bills, May 9, 2019 | Nick Manes

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed three measures that will forbid, in most cases, law enforcement from seizing property like cash, cars or houses from those who have not been convicted of a crime.

State Sen. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.), who sponsored Senate Bill 2, said that during his decades as an attorney, he always viewed the practice known as civil asset forfeiture as problematic.

“It’s been a long process, but it’s been a much-needed process,” Lucido said of the new laws.

The signing also was attended by state Reps. Jason Wentworth (R-Clare) and David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids), the sponsors of House Bill 4001 and House Bill 4002, respectively.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), Attorney General Dana Nessel, House Minority Leader Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) and a handful of law enforcement officials also were in attendance.

Senate Advice and Consent Chair Pete Lucido, Feb. 5, 2019
Sen. Pete Lucido, Feb. 5, 2019 | Nick Manes

Overhauling Michigan’s civil asset forfeiture law has been a goal for many legislators and criminal justice reform advocates for years. It emerged as a top priority in the GOP-led House this session and has been a bipartisan bright spot as leaders settle into divided government.

In 2017, law enforcement agencies seized more than $13 million in cash and property, according to data from the state House. There were more than 200 cases in which those who had their property seized were later found not guilty, but had to forfeit property anyway.

The three pieces of legislation passed both chambers with near unanimous support, as the Advance has previously reported.

“When we put people before politics, we can achieve great things, and this package is an excellent example,” LaGrand said in a statement.

“This plan allows police to continue to pursue large criminal organizations while making sure innocent people have full access to due process and the justice they deserve,” LaGrand continued.

Rep. David LaGrand speaks at the civil asset forfeiture bill signing, May 9, 2019 | Nick Manes

Various aspects of criminal justice reform have, for the most part, been a bipartisan priority for all branches of state government. Last month, Whitmer issued an executive order establishing a new task force to explore policy solutions on the subject. The governor announced the task force’s full roster on Wednesday.

Whitmer said the civil asset reform bills show that there’s considerable room for bipartisanship, even as Republicans and Democrats battle over contentious issues like the state’s much-maligned auto insurance system.

“We just signed bills where people work together; they gave each other notice; they had the opportunity to contribute and negotiate and make sure that these bills really reflect goals,” Whitmer said pointedly. “That’s not been the goal on no-fault reform.”

Nick Manes
Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.

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