House Democrats Play Politics With Property Rights

House Democrats Play Politics With Property Rights

Yesterday, in a very ironic twist of events, Democrats in House Judiciary argued against the very platform they purport to stand for. 

Criminal justice reform.

In an astonishing display of intellectual dishonesty, Democrat members attacked legislation that reforms the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws that would require the government obtain a criminal conviction prior to forfeiting an individual’s property.  Not only is this one of the most important areas of criminal justice, it is an effort for which democrats themselves have advocated and voted.  In fact, just three years ago when more modest reforms were being proposed, many democrats stated they would like to see the legislation go further to include a criminal conviction.

Their public objections to the bill teetered on the bizarre.  They claimed because the bill prohibits the Attorney General from funding employees with RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) funds that would force government to cut other areas of government such as public defenders.  A clear demonstration as to why a built-in profit motive is grossly immoral.  They also argued that the bill would eliminate law enforcement’s ability to seize assets of criminals and therefore hurt victims of crime.  A patently false statement that would have been easily dispelled had any of the Democrats bothered to read the actual bill.  Perhaps the most strange argument was that under current law, advocates of the bill could simply file a “1487” a mechanism in state law that allows a lawmaker to request an Attorney General opinion as to whether a local county or city is breaking the law and then withhold state shared revenues if they were found in violation.  The most blatantly obvious problem with this – law enforcement isn’t breaking the law.  They can lawfully seize and forfeit an individual’s property without even charging them with a crime.  That is in fact the reason for the bill in the first place.

Their arguments had themselves turned in knots.

This new-found alliance between democrats and prosecutors has them abandoning the people they claim to advocate for the most – minorities and the impoverished.  Afterall, their philosophic truth council the ACLU has been stalwart advocates for the overhaul of the forfeiture system both in Arizona and around the country, in part because the backward laws disproportionally harm minority and low income populations.  Considering how instrumental the ACLU was in passing Arizona’s 2017 reforms, it is curious they didn’t have more sway with House Democrats this time around.

It is quite clear that the discussion of SB1556 has eroded into the politics of personality.  House Judiciary Democrats being happy to sell out completely on their principles of criminal justice reform and defending the most vulnerable persons in the system to stick it to a bill sponsor they don’t like.  Or perhaps they have flip flopped on the issue because in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, they now support taking people’s property without due process.

Considering we are living in a time when many Americans and Arizonans are concerned with government overreach and oppression, it is unconscionable that lawmakers would consider protecting a system of legalized government theft.  Hopefully, House Democrats will remember who they represent and vote YES today on SB1556.