1 year ago

Alabama’s civil asset forfeiture reform effort takes a turn towards creating a public database on property seizures

Last week State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Birmingham) introduced the Forfeiture Database and Reporting Act to create a central repository of data on asset forfeitures to provide lawmakers and citizens with easily accessible information on the practice.

The bill would require law enforcement to report information about the seizures that include, among others, the date of property seizure, the type of property seized, the location of the seizure, and the type of underlying criminal offense that led to the seizure.

Mooney’s bill is the culmination of months-long efforts by concerned lawmakers, the Alabama Policy Institute (API) and other state and national organizations to reform civil asset forfeiture in Alabama. 

Last November, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) invited Jordan Richardson of the Charles Koch Institute and Lee McGrath of the Institute for Justice – two individuals working nationally on asset forfeiture reform – to take part in a a bi-partisan, roundtable discussion on this issue of asset forfeiture for lawmakers and others interested in the issue.

“API and SPLC don’t agree on 99 percent of stuff, but we do agree that we need to monitor civil asset forfeiture,” said Leigh Hixon, Alabama Policy Institute’s senior director of policy relations, in an interview with Yellowhammer News.

Cases like that of Frank Ranelli, who had 130 computers seized from his Birmingham computer repair business in 2010 on suspicion that he was dealing in stolen merchandise, have spurred bipartisan efforts to reform the asset forfeiture practice. Ranelli proved that the merchandise was not stolen, but his property was never returned to him.

In January, State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) introduced the Alabama Forfeiture Accountability and Integrity Reform Act to prevent such cases from happening. The bill received bipartisan support but was rejected by groups alligned with Alabama’s law enforcement community.

The presidents of the Alabama District Attorneys Association and the Alabama Sheriffs Association pushed back against Orr’s legislation earlier this legislative session, penning an op-ed at Yellowhammer News which said that the legislation would “essentially gut” one of law enforcements best tools used for fighting crime.

Defending the practice of asset forfeiture against charges of seizing the property of innocents, they wrote, “Law enforcement uses civil asset forfeiture only to go after criminals, and state law already guarantees a process that is clear and fair for any person to challenge forfeiture in court.”

Leigh Hixon said sponsors of the legislature were not comfortable with passing legislation without the support of law enforcement, so they began crafting a proposal in consort with law enforcement that would create a state-wide repository of data on forfeitures.

“To maintain the public’s trust in law enforcement, the government’s power to seize and forfeit private property must be exercised with transparency,” Alabama District Attorneys Association said in a statement on Friday expressing its support for Mooney’s bill.

The Southern Poverty Law Center does not support Mooney’s bill, which it argues does not do enough to reform the practice of asset forfeiture.

Conservative legislators and policy experts clearly have some disagreement with law enforcement about asset forfeiture, but some agree that creating a data system will help maintain public trust in law enforcement, as well as make data available to better inform arguments about the practice.

“Citizens and politicians will have that data available to make the determination for how to move forward on policy in the future,” Hixon said.

43 mins ago

Alabama’s Coach Saban undergoes hip replacement surgery

Alabama coach Nick Saban has undergone hip replacement surgery.

Dr. Lyle Cain said Monday the 67-year-old Saban is expected to make a full recovery and “should be able to return to work in the very new future.”

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Cain says the right hip replacement was “robotic assisted” at Andrews Sports Medicine, with hip specialist Benton Emblom.

Cain says Saban could now have “a few more yards off the tee” in his golf game.

Saban said after Alabama’s spring game that his hip problems would be evaluated and that he could need six to eight weeks of recovery.

He said he wanted to get it fixed “because I don’t want to coach for one more year, I want to coach for a lot of more years.”
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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1 hour ago

Jefferson County ending misdemeanor marijuana arrests

Alabama’s most populous county will immediately end arrests for misdemeanors including the possession of small amounts of marijuana, officials announced Monday.

Officers will begin issuing tickets for nonviolent misdemeanor offenses rather than taking people to jail, Capt. David Agee, a spokesman for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, told a news conference.

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“People are always talking about criminal justice reform,” he said. “Well this is more than talk, this is action. This is big.'”

People could still wind up in jail if misdemeanor offenses are tied to more serious crimes.

Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway advocated curtailing arrests for small amounts of marijuana during his campaign last year.

The change will save jail space and supplies and allow officers to concentrate on more serious offenses, Agee said.

He also questioned whether young people caught with a small amount of marijuana should have to spend a night in jail.

“I think this is going to help a lot of people and get a lot of people back on track. Those who want help will be able to get help,” he said.

The state attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the change in Jefferson County, which has a population estimated by the Census at 659,300.

The change in Jefferson County came as the Alabama legislature is considering a measure that would reduce the penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana meant for personal use.

The bill would make possession of less than 2 ounces (57 grams) of marijuana punishable by a fine instead of jail time.

An offense would be classified as a violation, a step below a misdemeanor and carry a fine of up to $250.

The measure would also allow for charges to be expunged in some cases.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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2 hours ago

7 Things: Marsh out of U.S. Senate race as Tuberville moves up, SSN in big trouble, court battle over Trump’s financials begins and more …

7. “Homophobic” Facebook post leads to suspension of Madison County Sheriff’s deputy

— Madison County Deputy Jeff Graves is being disciplined for a series of comments on Facebook about the suicide of a high school student which include a meme about LGBTQ/BBQ. The more controversial comment on a Huntsville TV station’s Facebook page about a story involving a group of drag queens holding an anti-bullying event reads, “I’m seriously offended there is such a thing such as the movement. Society cannot and should not accept this behavior.” This isn’t a hateful comment. It’s rather milquetoast, but local and national media outlets have jumped on the story calling the comments “homophobic.” The Madison County Sheriff Office has launched an “audit” and stated, “The Sheriff’s Office holds all its employees to [a] high standard.” The office added, “The involved employee has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the audit.”

6. Surprising poll shows a majority of Alabama voters oppose removing permit requirement to conceal carry

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— Results of a poll show that 87 percent of Alabama voters support requiring a background check to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun, while 71 percent of voters oppose removing the permit requirement. If passed, Senate Bill 4 would allow people to carry a concealed handgun without a permit or a background check. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America released the poll and had 100 volunteers from across the state travel to the Capitol last week to voice their opinion. Judy Taylor, one of the volunteers, said, “As a responsible gun owner, I know that when we remove the permitting system that keeps our communities safe, no one wins.”

5. The U.S. will no longer exempt any countries from sanctions for importing oil from Iran

— On Monday, the Trump administration announced that sanctions waivers that expire on May 2 for China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey won’t be renewed. The White House released a statement that said the intent of this decision is to bring Iran’s oil export to zero. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that they want to remove Iran’s main source of cash. U.S. officials claim not to expect a significant reduction in oil supply since the U.S. and other top oil producers have agreed to take action to assure that global demand is met as Iranian oil is removed from the market.

4. Bus driver who skipped stops fired

— The general manager of Apple Bus, which has a contract with Huntsville City Schools, announced on Monday at a school board meeting that the driver who skipped stops and was accused of refusing to let kids off the bus has been fired. The driver claimed that he skipped stops because the children were misbehaving, and he told the children that he wouldn’t stop unless they behaved. The driver also told the children that he was “taking them home to be disciplined.” The children got off the bus when the driver stopped at a red light, and police were called by witnesses who said the children were crying and scared. The driver’s name has not been released, and he will not be charged with a crime.

3. President Trump sues to block subpoena for his financial records

— On Monday, President Trump’s lawyers filed a lawsuit naming Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Peter Kenny, the chief investigative counsel of House Committee, as its plaintiffs. Cummings has said that he would subpoena the accounting firm Mazars USA LLC for Trump’s annual financial statements, periodic financial reports and independent auditor reports, as well as communications with Trump. Trump’s lawyers have asked the court to declare the subpoena invalid and unenforceable. They also requested a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prohibit Mazars from providing the requested information. Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano weighed in on the issue saying that Democrats can’t get President Trump’s financial records “because they want to torment him” and went on to say that “Congress will have to state for what purpose they want this.”

2. Social Security won’t be solvent to by 2035 and will be in the red in 2020

— An annual report was released by trustees of the government’s two largest entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare. The report stated that Social Security’s trust funds will be gone by 2035. Retirees will still receive checks, but the program will only have enough funds to pay three-quarters of benefits from 2035-2093. Of course, the trustees urged lawmakers to make sure that Americans will be able to receive their full benefits. Lawmakers have avoided addressing Social Security because fixing the funding issue will likely result in higher payroll taxes, curtailing benefits or a combination of both. It’s also expected that Social Security’s cost will be higher than its income in 2020.

1. Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh says he is out of the U.S. Senate race — new poll has Tommy Tuberville in the lead

— In a move that surprises those watching the U.S. Senate race in Alabama, Marsh announced he is out, telling The Anniston Star “I’m not running, and I’ve not made any plans to run. This comes on the heels of a poll showing Marsh polling around 4 percent and trailing announced candidate Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01), unannounced candidates, including two other congressmen, and Judge Roy Moore. Another poll included Tommy Tuberville that featured the former Auburn head coach leading with 23 percent of those polling choosing him. With Marsh and Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) out, this race could be far less crowded than most people expected it to be.

 

 

4 hours ago

Ad challenges Doug Jones on assertion that Boston Marathon Bomber should be allowed to vote while in jail

Senator Doug Jones’ (D-AL) partisan pledge to back whomever the Democrats nominate against President Donald Trump in 2020 is already manifesting itself as a major political – and policy – blunder by the incumbent from Mountain Brook as Jones seeks re-election of his own.

Hours after the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) erected an Alabama billboard tying Jones to far-left “socialist” healthcare plans, a new video ad was released challenging Jones to answer whether he agrees with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), two leading contenders for the Democrats’ 2020 presidential nomination, when they said during a CNN town hall Monday evening that the Boston Marathon Bomber and all other U.S. citizens currently serving domestic prison sentences should be allowed to vote.

Watch:

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This is not the only radical policy issue that Jones has tacitly promised to support with his blanket presidential pledge, nor could it be the last.

Expect to see Republicans continue to tie Jones to national Democratic ideas that the clear majority of Alabamians disagree with. In 2016, Trump beat Hillary Clinton 62.9 percent to 34.6 percent, which was a difference of almost 600,000 votes.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

5 hours ago

Major bills to get committee hearings on Tuesday

MONTGOMERY — Tuesday is expected to be an interesting day in the Alabama legislature, as respective bills dealing with the lottery and constitutional carry are set to receive committee consideration.

State Sen. Greg Albritton’s (R-Range) lottery bill – SB 220 – and State Sen. Gerald Allen’s (R-Tuscaloosa) bill eliminating firearm permit requirements – SB 4 – are on the Senate Tourism Committee’s meeting agenda for 2:00 p.m. You can listen live here.

Additionally, State Sen. Cam Ward’s (R-Alabaster) open records reform bill, SB 237, is on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee’s meeting agenda for 1:00 p.m. Listen live to that here.

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Both meetings are in room 825 of the State House.

SB 220 and SB 4 have each received a public hearing in recent weeks.

SB 4’s public hearing was in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

SB 220 is the only clean lottery legislation that has been filed this session.

SB 237 is known as the “Alabama Open Records Act.” State Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) is carrying the bill in the House.

The House will gavel in at 1:00 p.m. Tuesday, while the Senate will begin its legislative day at 3:00 p.m.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn