Bills Attempt to Shine Light on Government-Seized Property
A package of bills designed to give the public access to information on property seized by, or forfeited to, government entities is under consideration by a state House committee. The legislation would require government entities across the state to submit annual reports to the Michigan State Police (MSP) on property they’ve seized or received through forfeiture. The information would be compiled, issued in an annual report to the Legislature and posted on the MSP website.
“The bill package is about uniformity, transparency, and accountability,” said Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Walled Lake, the sponsor of House Bill 4504, the flagship bill of the package. “Law enforcement agencies around the state are already reporting on seized and forfeited property. A certain percent aren’t reporting, but that may be because they haven’t had any instances to report on. The point is that currently what needs to be reported is not being all tabulated together in one place where it can be accessed. This legislation would do that.”
“This is about forfeiture and seizure of property involving criminal cases, not for owing money,” Kesto said. “Nonetheless it is property, and we need to make sure the system is transparent. We’ve all heard and read stories about alleged abuses; whether those are just anecdotal or not, I don’t know. So what we want to do with this legislation is raise the bar on creating transparency. There are a few things we may need to get ironed out. That means we might need to make some changes to the bills going forward.”
Kesto is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which is currently holding hearings on the package. Michigan Capitol Confidential asked him if there is support for the legislation in the Senate.
“I can’t speak for the Senate but I will be working with the lawmakers over there,” Kesto said. “I do believe that we’re all interested in transparency.”
If enacted the legislation would place an additional responsibility and workload on the MSP. Michigan Capitol Confidential asked Kesto if that fact is causing the MSP to resist or oppose the bills.
“My understanding is that any objection MSP has is about the mandating of extra work without providing any additional resources for doing it,” Kesto said. “I think people understand that there is a need for more resources to support the additional work required to get the database up and so on. They request to be allowed to use some of the funds from the forfeitures for this, and I’m fine with that.”
Under the legislation, the annual report would contain the following information:
- The number of forfeiture proceedings started and number concluded by the reporting agency in the circuit court, as well as the number pending at the end of the year.
- The number of forfeitures effectuated by the reporting agency without a forfeiture proceeding in the circuit court.
- The number of forfeiture proceedings subject to a plea or any other similar agreement involving the property owner and reporting agency.
- An inventory of property received by the reporting agency according to categories listed in the bill. These include residential, industrial or commercial, or agricultural real property; money; weapons; motor vehicles; or other personal property of value. For each property listed in the inventory, the bill requires information such as the date the property was seized, its estimated value, its final disposition, the alleged violation or nuisance leading to the forfeiture, whether anyone was charged and ultimately convicted of a violation, the number of claimants to the property, and whether the forfeiture resulted from an adoptive seizure.
- Net proceeds of all property forfeited through actions instituted by the reporting agency for which it is required to account for and report to the state treasurer under either the Uniform System of Accounting Act or Uniform Budgeting and Accounting Act.
- Certain statements pertaining to the use of money and net proceeds for forfeiture proceedings under the Public Health Code (regarding controlled substance violations) and proceedings under the Revised Judicature Act (nuisance and general forfeiture laws).
The last three bullet points above would apply only to proceedings that have been finalized for purposes of appeal. A null report would be filed by a reporting agency that did not engage in any forfeitures during the reporting period.
In addition to House Bill 4504, the bill package includes House bills 4500, 4503, 4506 and 4507, which are technical supporting measures. The package of bills could be moved out of committee and placed before the full House relatively soon.
Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.