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Florida didn’t enact any civil asset reform in latest legislative session

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(The Center Square) — Florida missed out on civil asset forfeiture reform this session, with its last significant reforms coming in 2016.

During this legislative session, identical bills were introduced that would have reformed the state’s Contraband Forfeiture Act, but both never made it past the committee stage.

House Bill 1081 and Senate Bill 1556 would have required forfeiture proceedings be tied to a criminal case — with a stay of asset seizure until the defendant’s final disposition and conviction.

In 2016, former Gov. Rick Scott enacted SB 1044 which added protection to citizens from asset seizure.

The Florida Office of the Inspector General’s 2020-21 annual report OIG report shows more than $27 million was received from direct forfeitures. In total, over $45 million in cash and property was seized in 2020-21, with seized currency making up the vast majority at $32.4 million. A new report is due shortly with the end of the state’s fiscal year.

According to the report data, forfeiture outcomes leaned towards the asset-seizing agency. Sheriff departments retained $13.4 million in seized assets, police departments retained over $8 million, while schools and ports received a paltry $5,041.

Despite the reform, Florida ranks 44th in the U.S. for equitable sharing with the federal government, meaning state agencies frequently used federal loopholes to seize assets, according to the December 2020 Policing for Profit publication from the Institute for Justice.

Equitable sharing allows local and state law enforcement to partner with federal agencies to circumvent state law and forfeit property under federal law. Those state agencies can then keep up to 80% of the proceeds. The publication further notes that seizure proceeds should no longer be allocated to law enforcement agencies and should be put into a general state fund to disincentivize the practice.

The Cato Institute, which published the Cato Handbook for Policymakers in 2022, echoed the Institute for Justice’s findings, pointing out that states should eliminate civil forfeiture by requiring a criminal conviction before assets are seized.

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