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Alabama Legislature Update: Pushing to restrict police seizures, eliminating special elections and more


Editor’s note: This is a round-up of the day’s major events in Montgomery.

Day five of the 2018 Alabama legislative session brought a push to restrict when law enforcement authorities can seize private property, renewed action by a public corruption grand jury and a move to end special elections when U.S. senators leave office early.

Here is a roundup of Tuesday’s action in the Legislature and in official Montgomery:

Civil forfeiture: Two lawmakers, state Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Birmingham), offered legislation on Tuesday to prohibit law enforcement agencies for seizing money or property without a criminal conviction.

AL.com quoted Orr as saying he was not aware that police could take property through civil proceedings, which carry a lower burden of proof.

“I thought we had always required a criminal conviction before seizing someone’s property,” he said. “I wasn’t aware that wasn’t the case until two years ago, and that’s the reason I filed a bill last year and why I intend to do so again this year.”

Although the bill did not pass last year, the sentiment behind it has support from across the ideological spectrum.

The left-leaning Southern Poverty Law Center and Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice published a report this week detailing how civil forfeiture works in Alabama.

The conservative Alabama Policy Institute also has expressed concern about abuses.

The ghost of Bentley? Prosecutors from the Alabama Attorney General’s Office brought witnesses before a grand jury in Montgomery in connection with the corruption case involving former Gov. Robert Bentley, according to the Alabama Political Reporter.

The website reported that Bentley’s former legislative director, Wesley Helton, and his former chief of staff, Seth Hammett, were among the witnesses testifying Tuesday.

Reporter Chip Brownlee reported that the scope and targets of the probe are unclear but quoted sources close to the investigation who said that it could ensnare campaign contributors.

Call it the Doug Jones Act: The Alabama House of Representatives approved a bill to eliminate special elections in the event of a vacancy in one of the U.S. Senate seats.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), said he wanted to save money by foregoing the expense of a special election, according to AL.com. Appointed senators would serve until the next regularly scheduled election.

But the website reported that Democrats opposed taking the decision out of the hands of voters.

If not for current law, Luther Strange would still be senator, serving out the expired term of Jeff Sessions, who resigned to become U.S. attorney general.

The special election, and the unusual circumstances surrounding late-breaking allegations of sexual impropriety against Republican nominee Roy Moore, opened the door for Democrat Doug Jones to win the race.

The Montgomery Advertiser’s Brian Lyman reports that 36 other states have similar laws. The newspaper quoted Clouse as denying that the 2017 special election results were a factor.

“This bill certainly has nothing to do with the personalities in that race,” he said during the debate. “It has everything to do with the cost to the General Fund.”

Rep. Christopher England (D-Tuscaloosa) said the bill would force voters to wait many months before getting a chance to register their disapproval with a governor’s hand-picked choice to fill a vacancy.

Making sure everyone is counted: With Alabama at risk of losing a U.S. House of Representatives seat at the next reapportionment because of slow population growth, the Alabama Senate approved a resolution by Sen. Gerald Dial (R-Lineville) calling for a plan to maximize the head count in the 2020 census.

Alabama can’t manufacture new residents. But it can help to ensure that census officials do not miss residents. He said the goal is to “make sure that every person in this state is counted,” according to a tweet from AL.com’s Mike Cason.

Tweet of the day:

Brendan Kirby is senior political reporter at LifeZette.com and a Yellowhammer contributor. He also is the author of “Wicked Mobile.” Follow him on Twitter.