A strong bipartisan majority of Colorado legislators came together during the 2017 legislative session to pass HB 1313 - Civil Forfeiture Reform.
The bill, which adds necessary transparency and due process protections to the asset forfeiture practices of Colorado law enforcement, passed out of both chambers by a combined 81-19 vote and is awaiting signature by Gov. John Hickenlooper.
As two of the bill's prime sponsors, Sen. Tim Neville (R-Littleton) and I support HB 1313 and urge the governor to respect the will of more than three-fourths of the Legislature by signing it into law.
Colorado's law enforcement can take cash and property from people without charging anyone with a crime - much less securing a conviction - when co-operating with the federal government on investigations.
Law enforcement agencies then get a cut of the proceeds - up to 80 percent - which they can spend in any way they please without a public process. This allows law enforcement agencies to self-fund outside the normal appropriations' process, which by and large is the job of the legislative branch whether it is in state or local governments.
HB 1313 brings this forfeiture activity into the light of day by bringing more transparency into the process.
Under the bill, law enforcement will have to detail to the public when it uses the process known as "civil forfeiture" and detail what was seized and what was the ultimate disposition of the property.
Law enforcement will also have to report if the person from whom the property was seized was charged or convicted of a crime. There will be a fine levied against those entities that fail to report.
The bill also closes a significant loophole in current state law that permits law enforcement to bypass state-level restrictions and due process protections on asset forfeiture activity.
Through "equitable sharing" state and local law enforcement agencies can team up with the federal government and the property is then forfeited under federal law, since federal law provides fewer due process protections.
Colorado law agencies have relied on this loophole extensively.
Between 2000 and 2013, they used this loophole and received an excess of $47 million from the Department of Justice alone, which amounts to more than three times the amount collected under state forfeiture laws.
Passing this bill with strong bipartisan support was no easy lift. Behind the scenes, sponsors from both sides of the aisle worked with the Colorado District Attorney's Counsel, the Attorney General's Office and police and sheriffs to craft policy that was best suited for Colorado.
Ultimately, the district attorneys and the AG's office supported the legislation, but the police and sheriffs remained opposed along with the Colorado Municipal League and Colorado Counties Association.
These groups are now pressuring the Governor to veto HB 1313.
In the name of transparency and due process rights for Colorado citizens, we call on Gov. Hickenlooper to sign HB 1313.
Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, represents Colorado House District 8. Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, serves Colorado Senate District 16.