A Senate bill that would offer some reforms to the state’s oft-criticized civil asset forfeiture laws cleared a legislative committee – but proponents of the original bill said it had been gutted of its last remaining useful provision.
After heavy criticism from the PA District Attorney Association, SB-8 had already been blunted last year, alienating some of its original sponsors. The new bill cleared the Senate judiciary committee by a 12-2 vote.
But Democratic Sen. Daylin Leach, one of the early supporters of reform, didn’t vote for the final iteration.
“Daylin voted for the compromise bill last year because it still did some good things. The best thing it did was guarantee the right to counsel for individuals affected by forfeitures,” said Steve Hoenstine, a spokesperson for the senator. “This bill contains everything from last year except that provision.”
District attorneys across the state regularly petition courts to seize property tied to criminal investigations. Advocates say the seizures quickly get drug money, cars and other valuable assets out of the hands of criminals and help fund additional law enforcement efforts. But critics say forfeiture can also hit innocent people or individuals only tangentially associated with a crime.
An original iteration of the bill would have required a criminal conviction ahead of any asset liquidation.
The current bill nevertheless won first consideration today, moving it along to a final vote as early as next week.