Madison Coker
KU Statehouse Wire Service
Nearly 100 people gathered last week for the House Judiciary Committee hearing on a two bills that would change how law enforcement gains possession of assets linked to a potential crime.
HB 2018 requires conviction before forfeiture of someone’s assets, including money, illegal paraphernalia and personal property. According to a 2015 audit conducted by the Legislative Division of Post Audit State of Kansas, Kansas Law Enforcement Agencies’ had a yearend balance forfeiture greater than $2.5 million dollars. This bill would require officers to return all property if the person is not convicted — even if someone is charged, but released on bail.
Proponents of the bill said the current law is supporting the notion that, like people, property connected to possible crimes is guilty until proven innocent.
Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau said supporting the bill is not a direct attack on law enforcement. Rather, it is a matter of doing what is constitutional.
“Standards for taking property should be the same as life and liberty,” Ranzau said.
Other organizations backing the bill include the U.S. Policy Institute and the Kansas Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, as well as local religious leaders.
The crowd opposing HB 2018 was just as vocal. Law enforcement officers not in favor of the bill took up almost half of the committee room.
Sheriffs and police officers testified that this bill would keep them from doing a critical part of their job.
Wichita Chief of Police Gordon Ramsay said the current law helps officers prevent criminal activity.
“The easiest way to stop criminals is to take their profits,” Ramsay said.
Leaders from the Kansas Highway Patrol, Kansas Sheriffs’ Association and the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police all argued against the bill.
The second bill heard at the meeting, HB 2116, amends the Kansas Standard Asset Seizure and Forfeiture Act. It would require the Office of the Attorney General to create a public website that contains information about property seized and forfeited.
Similar opponents and proponents testified for this bill.
The judiciary committee will review the two bills over the next few weeks and consider adding amendments regarding animals as assets and where the obtained money will go if a conviction is not possible.