Gov. Butch Otter’s decision earlier this year to kill pro-limited government legislation drew heckling headlines like “Idaho Governor Flips Off Libertarians With Both Hands, Vetoes Asset Forfeiture AND Licensing Reforms.” All three current candidates for governor are on record as opposing Otter’s action regarding licensure, saying, had they been governor, they would have made certain that mobile makeup artists were again allowed to work without needing the government’s permission.
Now, these candidates are adding that they would have also signed the 2017 bill to reform the use of civil asset forfeiture, wherein some people who have never been charged with, or convicted of, a crime have their property or cash seized by the government. The bill passed the 2017 Legislature with the blessings of the Idaho Freedom Foundation and the Idaho ACLU. Law enforcement groups also voiced support for the bill after a House-passed version was modified to address their concerns. But, the governor vetoed it anyway.
Civil asset forfeiture has undergone a wave of reform nationwide, with states curtailing, eliminating or putting in transparency requirements for civil asset forfeiture. However, bucking the state-level trend, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently vowed to ramp up the use of civil asset forfeiture in federal proceedings.
U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador said he would have signed Idaho’s legislation because it “was a compromise that had broad support from law enforcement and civil libertarian groups, and it moved the needle in the direction of supporting private property rights.” He said he supports more expansive reforms that have passed in several parts of the country. “The use of civil asset forfeiture has been abused in some states, and there have also been some troubling examples even in Idaho. Idaho must continue working on reforms that prevent individuals who have never been charged with or convicted of a crime from losing their property.”
Lt. Gov. Brad Little said Senate amendments to the original bill made it worthy of his signature. He noted, “I agree that there should be updates to civil asset forfeiture laws in Idaho that insert more accountability and protections for individuals who might otherwise lose property but were not convicted of a crime. But revisions to this law must balance protecting personal property with ensuring the bad guys do not get to keep assets obtained through illegal activity.”
Businessman Tommy Ahlquist also said he supported the bill’s final version. Ahlquist stated, “civil liberty advocates and law enforcement came together and worked out an amendment that both better protected civil liberties but also didn’t hamstring law enforcement. I am open to other reforms on the use of civil asset forfeiture as long as it strikes the right balance between civil liberties and law enforcement.”
Supporters of civil asset forfeiture reform hope the 2018 Legislature will again take up the issue and that Otter will change his mind on the matter, or work with the bill’s sponsors to make the changes necessary to get his signature. If not, there’s always 2019 when a new governor takes office.