August 28, 2015

With Forfeiture Hearing Set at Police Venue, Lawmaker Plans His Own Forum

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Sen. Kyle Loveless

Sen. Kyle Loveless

The issue of civil asset forfeiture will be the subject of two separate state Senate meetings in different cities on Tuesday – one featuring those in favor of reforming the system and one featuring only law enforcement.

On Friday afternoon, state Sen. Kyle Loveless, who had requested the interim study, abruptly asked that the interim study be canceled.

He did so after Sen. Anthony Sykes, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, decided to hold the interim study hearing at the Tulsa Police Academy. Typically such hearings are held at the State Capitol. The new venue drew complaints from some members of the public and some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Loveless said. Sykes could not be reached Friday for comment.

Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, said lack of public-access Internet at the Tulsa Police Academy was a factor in his canceling of the interim-study hearing.

“The Tulsa DA called the Senate IT (operation) to tell them that public access web was unavailable. Once I found that out, I find that beyond inconvenient,” Loveless said. “This is not allowing me to make the case that I believe I need to make.”

Shortly after Loveless’ request that the study be canceled, a revised notice for the interim study hearing was issued Friday. It indicated the hearing would still take place without the presence of Loveless or other supporters of changes to the forfeiture laws.

The notice states that the interim study is now scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Tulsa Police Academy. Only law enforcement officials are scheduled to speak.

Loveless authored Senate Bill 838, which would place more restrictions on law enforcement’s ability to seize property or cash believed to be involved in the criminal activity, such as drug trafficking, and gain forfeiture of it through a civil suit in court. Once forfeited, the cash and proceeds from the sale of property are often provided to the agency making the seizure and to prosecutors to spend on anti-drug operations and training.

The practice has come under fire from both liberal and conservative groups, who say the process is ripe for corruption, that innocent people have lost assets, and that it violates constitutional protections.

Law enforcement officials have sharply criticized Loveless’ bill. They say curbing the state’s forfeiture laws would hamstring their efforts to conduct anti-drug activities and disrupt criminal operations. They maintain abuses of the system rarely occur and constitutional protections remain in place.

In a written statement, Loveless said he would hold a hearing at the Capitol regardless. “I believe the topic of civil asset forfeiture is too important to be overshadowed by politics,” he said. “I would prefer to hold an open and transparent discussion on civil asset forfeiture so both sides of the issue can go on the record to present their cases.”

Loveless said another issue was that two individuals were going to address the committee via video conferencing. However, the Tulsa Police Academy did not have an Internet connection that would accommodate video conferencing.

A House interim study on civil asset forfeiture scheduled for Sept. 22 has been canceled as well, Loveless said.

Loveless’ panel meeting is scheduled for Tuesday in Room 419 C of the State Capitol, with those in favor of reform speaking from 9 a.m. to noon. Loveless said he would still welcome law enforcement officials and those opposed to the changes to speak at the meeting.

Note: This story was updated on Aug. 30.