Assembly rejects measure to limit police seizure of assets

Facing intense opposition from law enforcement groups, a measure to limit police seizures of cash, cars and other property from people not convicted of a crime fell flat in the Assembly on Thursday. 

The measure, by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), would curb the use of a 1980s drug war-era U.S. law, which allows local agencies that work with federal officials to keep such assets if there’s suspicion they were used in a crime or are the proceeds of illegal activity.

Critics of the forfeiture law say the practice is being abused to plug budget gaps in police departments.  

"I don’t like being on the opposite side of a bill from our law enforcement professionals ... but it is a core principle of American justice that each person has his or her day in court before his or her property is taken," said Assemblyman David Hadley (R-Manhattan Beach), co-author of the measure.

The bill would require law enforcement to return confiscated property unless there is a criminal conviction. 

The proposal has been scaled back as it has journeyed through the Legislature. But it is still fiercely opposed by law enforcement groups, who argue the measure would constrain their partnerships with federal agencies.

"We need to make sure [law enforcement] has the tools to go after the real bad guys," said Assemblyman Donald P. Wagner (R-Irvine), adding that the bill "goes too far and completely takes those tools away."

The bill was opposed by Republicans and some Democrats, and failed on a 24-41 vote in the Assembly. It could be revived on the floor in the future, but the deadline to pass bills this year is Friday. 

Follow @melmason for more on California government and politics.

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