Mustang Senator poised to continue fighting for civil asset forfeiture reform
Even though the state Legislature is out of session, Sen. Kyle Loveless is not taking time off in his pursuit to reform civil asset forfeiture laws.
After he won his bid for re-election in July, Loveless, who represents Mustang in District 45, has continued to gather information on the highly-debated forfeiture laws and was recently invited to speak to 300 lawmakers from around the nation at a conference focusing on the topic. Loveless said he paid for the trip to Indianapolis himself.
“It was pretty impressive that my legislation is being used as a model when I could not even get a hearing,” Loveless said, referring to how legislation he proposed that was not heard in the last session. But after gathering more information and hearing about efforts in other states, he said he is ready for round two.
Loveless said he has learned that Michigan, New Hampshire, Florida and Nebraska all had law enforcement help with pushing for asset seizure reform. He said he shared information about Oklahoma’s ERAD machines, which were recently suspended by Gov. Mary Fallin from use by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. The Electronic Recovery and Access to Data card readers were being used by law enforcement to scan prepaid debit cards and target funds linked to them for civil asset forfeiture.
“A lot of states did not even know what these machines were or that they are being used in their states,” Loveless said. “OHP and vendors were using them without policy and the
vendors getting 7 percent.”
After his bill’s defeat, Loveless said he is now receiving support from “all over the spectrum.
“There are many facets how this is affecting Oklahomans,” he said. “The coalition that has come together on this is quite impressive.”
Loveless said an interim study will be held in the coming weeks so both sides of the issue in Oklahoma can present their case. Outgoing Canadian County Sheriff Randal Edwards was highly critical of the plan Loveless put forward.
“At the end of the day, I hope we can stand together at a press conference on this reform bill. They may have wanted more and I may have wanted more, but I hope we can come up with something,” Loveless said.
Loveless said he has been tweaking his legislation, looking at Michigan and Nebraska’s bill models. Originally, his bill was formatted for seized funds and property to go to an independent body instead of the state’s general fund.
“I may have been too ambitious with that,” he said. “That money should not be going back to the agency that took it because that is where the problem is. We don’t have a true transparency of what is being taken.”
Instead, Loveless said he considering that funds to be budgeted and accounted for through a county budget board.
“The money needs to be taken an arm’s length away because that takes away the potential for abuse. Right now, it’s basically a black hole.”
Loveless said he doesn’t place blame on law enforcement for the problems with asset forfeiture, but instead with the “law they are operating under.”
“This is why I ran for office – for problems that have gone too far and this is something that government can fix.”
Loveless said two years ago New Mexico was the first state to ban forfeiture and require a criminal conviction. Since then, 22 other states have talked about it and 15 have changed their law to some degree.
“Oklahoma is a part of that; we did get a watered down baby step,” Loveless said. “It was a bill that if property is taken, the government will hire you an attorney.”
“That was a good step but we still have 10 more to go.”
He pointed to what he calls a “Rosa Parks moment” for him when a Christian missionary from Muskogee driving from Dallas to Tulsa had $53,000 seized after being stopped by law enforcement.
“It happened in March, past the bill filing deadline,” Loveless said. “He was stopped and questioned for six hours. They finally told him he could leave but took his money. No media ever found out and Muskogee County kept it quiet. He was never charged with a crime until he asked for his money back.”
When the story became public, the man’s money was returned to him.