- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2015

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - New reporting requirements and higher standards for taking people’s property could soon be applied to Michigan’s civil asset forfeiture system under a package approved in the House on Thursday.

The 110-member Republican-majority House approved most of the eight bills in the bipartisan package with 103 votes or more.

In Michigan, someone’s assets may be forfeited if the property is judged to be related to a crime, regardless of whether the owner is ever charged or convicted. That’s because asset forfeitures are heard in civil court, separate from the criminal process.

The House Republicans listed civil asset forfeiture reform as one of their priorities for this legislative session.

In a speech on the House floor, Commerce Township Republican and the package’s lead sponsor, Rep. Klint Kesto, said, “We need to have uniformity, we need to have transparency and we need to have accountability.”

The bills would make a variety of changes, including raising the standard for forfeiture to the highest in civil court, one of clear and convincing evidence rather than a preponderance of the evidence.

Other bills would require detailed reports from local police to the state police on property that was forfeited. Reporting is currently required for forfeited assets related to suspected drug crimes, but not for other suspected criminal activities.

Another bill would aim to protect someone’s vehicle from forfeiture if they are found to possess 1 ounce or less of marijuana for personal use. That bill drew the lowest level of support out of the package, but still gathered a bipartisan 81 votes in its favor.

Some advocates for reform have said that while they support the package, they would like to see Michigan follow states like New Mexico and Montana, where laws have been changed to require a conviction for assets to be forfeited.

The Coalition for Public Safety, a bipartisan group that promotes criminal justice reforms, praised the package as a strong step forward.

Jenna Moll, director of state strategic initiatives for the coalition, said the bills will “preserve this tool for law enforcement to use in appropriate situations” while protecting the due process rights of property owners.

The package now goes to the Senate for consideration.

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