Officials from the Wichita area played a big part in the debate over the future of a bill dealing with when police can seize and keep property in connection with a crime.
The bill in the Kansas House would require a conviction before property is seized and held by law enforcement after some crimes.
“Kansans should be innocent until proven guilty … but their property is deemed guilty,” said Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita.
Advocates of civil liberties and small government expressed support for HB 2018 at a hearing on Tuesday. Local and state law enforcement groups oppose it.
Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau said the bill should not be considered an attack on law enforcement.
“This is about how easy or difficult it would be or you want to make it for the government to take property,” Ranzau said in testimony on behalf of him and Commissioner Jim Howell.
“This is just an opportunity to set the bar high in protection of our life, liberty and property,” Ranzau said. “The standards should be consistent and should be at a high level.”
Representatives from various law enforcement agencies oppose the bill, saying civil asset forfeiture helps them combat crime and hurts criminals’ financial enterprises. The committee room was packed, in part, by uniformed officers.
Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said one of the most effective ways to reduce crime is to take away criminals’ profits.
“No one has the constitutional right to retain profits made through criminal activity,” Ramsay said.
Ramsay ask lawmakers to not “take away this valuable tool that aids us in our police work.”
Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter said notice is sent to people who had the property to testify to get their property back.
“There is a due process involved in civil law and always has been,” Easter said, speaking on behalf of the Kansas Sheriffs’ Association. “Civil law has been here for years, and if we go and redo civil law, then there’s going to be similar arguments made for everything else that is governed by civil law.”
Ranzau said there should be a way to deal with property that goes unclaimed because people don’t want to be charged with a potential crime.
“But that’s distinct from … when someone is arrested and they say, ‘Yes, that’s my property. I want it back, because it was not related to a crime,’ ” Ranzau said. “If we cannot convict that person of a crime, I don’t think we should take their property.”