Category Archives: Initiative

Civil Asset Forfeiture Model Language

Model language for a municipal charter amendment to address civil asset forfeiture. This language has been tailored to Michigan cities.

New Section ____ of the Charter of the City of ­­____, Michigan

Section ____. Property Seizure and Forfeiture.

As used in this section, “property” shall be liberally construed to include assets and possessions; “employee” includes anyone acting under the authority of the city. A conviction of a criminal offense is a prerequisite to forfeiture and the transfer to the City of _____ of title to property directly used in or derived from that offense. All revenues from forfeited property, including revenue derived from sharing proceeds of forfeited property from cooperation with other federal, state, or local agencies, shall be placed in a separate fund, used only to pay costs directly related to local street repair, and shall not be earmarked or allocated to law enforcement or code enforcement. At any time, a property owner may ask the City or a court to return property that was wrongly seized or because there is no reason for the City to continue to hold the property. No bond shall be required on any property seized under authority of the city. If property is wrongfully seized, the City has no reason to continue to hold the property, or the property owner is not convicted of a criminal offense that has a forfeiture provision, the city shall return, replace, or provide full compensation for any property damaged, defaced, or devalued as a result of seizure by city employees. Records of all property seizures shall be indexed by date, department, name of owner, property type, and seizure value, and include details of the conviction. These records shall be published monthly on the city’s publicly-accessible website consistent with Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act 442 of 1976.

 

Let’s break it down:

 

The language is a proposed charter amendment. The first line identifies this as a new law, gives the section of the charter, and the city name. If the language is approved this will not appear in the charter.

New Section ____ of the Charter of the City of ­­____, Michigan

 

Section title. This will appear in the charter. Not everyone is familiar with the phrase “civil asset forfeiture.” In this model “Property Seizure” was used to clarify the issue.

Section ____. Property Seizure and Forfeiture.

 

It is common to provide definitions for terms in the amendment.

                As used in this section, “property” shall be liberally construed to include assets and possessions; “employee” includes anyone acting under the authority of the city.

 

This is the meat and potatoes. Don’t take property unless a law has been broken, and then only take the property involved in the crime or gained because of the crime.

A conviction of a criminal offense is a prerequisite to forfeiture and the transfer to the City of _____ of title to property directly used in or derived from that offense.

 

This line is for cases of forfeiture with a conviction and to address revenue sharing with a state or federal agencies. Law enforcement should not be policing for profit. Proceeds from the sale of property should not go to those taking the property. In this model, the money is used for street repair. Check state statutes, forfeiture proceeds may be required to go into a specific fund. This model attempts to address the problem of local law enforcement teaming up with federal or state agencies to avoid state or local prohibitions on civil asset forfeiture.

All revenues from forfeited property, including revenue derived from sharing proceeds of forfeited property from cooperation with other federal, state, or local agencies, shall be placed in a separate fund, used only to pay costs directly related to local street repair, and shall not be earmarked or allocated to law enforcement or code enforcement.

 

Property owners should not be deprived of their assets indefinitely.

At any time, a property owner may ask the City or a court to return property that was wrongly seized or because there is no reason for the City to continue to hold the property.

 

Many states require a property owner to pay a bond before they are allowed to challenge a seizure.

No bond shall be required on any property seized under authority of the city.

 

If the items seized are perishable or have been damaged, the government should replace or fix the property. It’s important innocent owners not be penalized.

If property is wrongfully seized, the City has no reason to continue to hold the property, or the property owner is not convicted of a criminal offense that has a forfeiture provision, the city shall return, replace, or provide full compensation for any property damaged, defaced, or devalued as a result of seizure by city employees.

 

Transparency is needed to ensure the city complies with the law. This model includes the statutes dealing with government transparency in Michigan.

Records of all property seizures shall be indexed by date, department, name of owner, property type, and seizure value, and include details of the conviction. These records shall be published monthly on the city’s publicly-accessible website consistent with Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act 442 of 1976.

 

 

Civil Asset Forfeiture

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Filed under asset forfeiture, Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, Criminal Justice Reform, Initiative, Model Langauge, transparency

An Easy Fix?

Tacoma, WA

Alex Hays recently submitted signatures for a ballot measure which will change the city government. The ballot measure proposes a strong mayor form of government. But he made a mistake.

But there was one mistake. In an effort to redraft the city charter, there was mix up and Hays accidentally removed a section of the charter that gives people the power to create initiatives and referendums. If passed, this initiative would take that power away from people in Tacoma.

“We reacted to the city’s request that we put together a different version. They wanted the entire charter reproduced. That made it a little harder to get right and unfortunately that created a chance for this mistake to occur,” said Hays.

Now the city is claiming nothing can be done.

Citizens signed this petition and the measure should appear as signed by citizens. However, if the city council sincerely wants to retain the initiative and referendum portion of the charter (and offer that choice to voters,) they can craft a ballot question that will do the same changes as the petition submitted by Hays, but include the initiative section of the charter. Then the ballot title should make clear what each charter amendment includes:

  • Strong mayor, tighter term limits, and no initiative and referendum.
  • Strong mayor, tighter term limits, and keep initiative and referendum.

The issue getting the highest number of votes would be approved, unless neither ballot question gets over 50% and no changes would be made. I hope the city council acts quickly to ensure voters have this option.

 

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Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, Initiative, Petition Drive, politicians, referendum, Term limits

Gaining The Initiative

Citizens in Sammamish, WA are expected to gain the ability to initiate legislation this fall.

Earlier this year activists circulated petitions to call for an advisory vote to gauge local support of the initiative process. Voters approved the advisory measure 55% to 45%.

The Sammamish City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to move forward with a resolution that states its intent to adopt citizen-enacted initiative and referendum powers, with Deputy Mayor Kathy Huckabay and Councilmember Tom Odell voting against.

The limited powers allow residents to create or repeal laws within the city by way of petition. The council decided to put the matter up to the public in the April special election. That nonbinding advisory vote passed with 55 percent approval with a 24 percent voter turnout.

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Safeway Drops Legal Challenge To Initiative Signature Gathering

PRESS RELEASE
SAFEWAY DROPS LEGAL CHALLENGE TO INITIATIVE SIGNATURE GATHERING
Citizen Solutions is pleased to announce that Safeway has dropped its legal challenge to initiative signature gathering at its stores throughout Washington state.
Safeway had sued Citizen Solutions and Progressive Campaigns for their activities in gathering signatures on I-1366, a Tax Reform Act, and I-1401, an initiative to protect endangered animals.  Safeway initially sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, but dropped that request just hours after Citizens Solutions responded with substantial evidence showing that Safeway stores across the state are modern town centers – in Safeway’s own words.  Two weeks later, just hours after Citizens Solutions formally responded to  all of Safeway’s claims by asserting the rights of initiative sponsors under Washington’s constitutional protection for the initiative process, Safeway threw in the towel and asked simply to drop its law suit.
Safeway’s action to file its lawsuit followed similar claims by other stores, including Fred Meyer.  Safeway’s quick turnabout was an acknowledgement that the Washington Supreme Court decision in the Alderwood Mall case from 1981 firmly protects the right of the people to gather initiative and referendum signatures at malls and other locations that are town centers.  Safeway’s lawsuit was dismissed on July 17, 2015.
Fred Diamondstone
Attorney
1218 Third Ave., Suite 1000
Seattle, WA 98101

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Tax Cap In Ocean City Maryland

The city attorney in Ocean City does not think citizens are allowed to petition for a tax cap. He’s basing his opinion on a tax rollback restriction. However, it is unlikely the court will decide until the city confirms enough petition signatures were submitted.

According to Charter Amendment Procedures for Maryland Municipalities, “the residents of an incorporated city or town may initiate an amendment to a municipal charter by gathering the signatures of at least 20 percent of qualified municipal voters on a petition in the same fashion that a charter amendment approved by a municipal governing body may be petitioned to referendum.”

Once the appropriate number of signatures is verified, the Town of Ocean City will be required to conduct the referendum within 90 days or at the next scheduled election, which is in November of 2016.

“I suspect that there may be some litigation over this petition, and the court is not going to reach a determination if the petition has not been verified with the requisite number of signatures,” Ayres said. “The issue is with the substance of the petition. In my opinion, the substance of the petition violates Section 6-303 of the Tax Property Article of the Maryland Code Annotated. The substance of the petition would amend the charter, so your ability to tax would be capped at the 2009 level of taxes, and that is known as a ‘tax rollback.’ In the case of Board of Election Supervisors vs. Smallwood … the court had ruled tax rollbacks are not proper charter material and violate Section 6-303.”

The Mayor and City Council voted unanimously to request the Board of Elections verify the number of signatures on the petition.

 

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Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, Initiative, Petition Drive, politicians, referendum

Reform Or Restriction

Disclosure of funding, should petitions require a higher standard than candidates? One San Diego city council member thinks they should.

At a special session of the City Council, meeting as a “committee of the whole,” Gloria will propose a package of regulations that require that petition advertisements identify the top two donors contributing to the drive; impose tighter deadlines for publicly reporting petition campaign contributions and expenses; and revamp the rules on how petitions are formatted

It’s easy for legislators to propose new regulations like these for petitions, they don’t bear the costs. New formatting rules will mean paying attorneys more to draft petitions. These types of regulations are always added to protect us from big money special interests, but they result in making the process more difficult and sometimes impossible for volunteers and small money drives. Big money special interests can pay for lobbyists, they can pay for attorneys to wade through the regulations. Volunteers and grassroots will be the ones tripped up by this law, they don’t have funding to pay CPAs and attorneys to prepare campaign finance reports or spend hours designing new petition templates.

It’s also a bit hypocritical, does councilman Todd Gloria put the names of his two biggest campaign donor on each piece of legislation he proposes? That’s a reform people might want to see.

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Confused Voters Rarely Vote Yes

Anyone who works ballot question campaigns will tell you, confusing language almost always results in votes against the question. Ballot titles are a big deal. If voters don’t understand they will often vote it down because they don’t understand it. I’ve written about misleading ballot titles here.

What do you think of these recent ballot titles?

San Antonio, Texas, Voters approved an amendment to require public votes before allowing for light rail or streetcar track.

SHALL THE CITY CHARTER BE AMENDED TO PROVIDE THAT NO GRANT OF PERMISSION TO ALTER OR DAMAGE ANY PUBLIC WAY OF THE CITY FOR THE LAYING OF STREETCAR OR LIGHT RAIL TRACKS SHALL EVER BE VALID, AND NO FUNDS SHALL BE APPROPRIATED AND NO BONDS OR NOTES SHALL BE ISSUED OR SOLD FOR THE PURPOSE OF STREETCAR OR LIGHT RAIL SYSTEMS, UNLESS FIRST APPROVED BY A MAJORITY OF THE QUALIFIED ELECTORS OF THE CITY VOTING AT AN ELECTION CONTAINING A PROPOSITION SPECIFICALLY IDENTIFIED FOR AND LIMITED TO SUCH PURPOSE?

Yes or No

Some reports claimed this was confusing, but voters approved it by about 2-1.

 

Arlington, Texas, Voters approve a ban on red light cameras.

Addition of Section 12 of Article X of the City Charter to prohibit photographic traffic signal enforcement.

For or Against

I consider this a little more confusing. Voters approved it 59% to 41%

 

Michigan voters denied a tax increase measure to fund roads.

A proposal to amend the State Constitution to increase the sales/use tax from 6% to 7% to replace and supplement reduced revenue to the School Aid Fund and local units of government caused by the elimination of the sales/use tax on gasoline and diesel fuel for vehicles operating on public roads, and to give effect to laws that provide additional money for roads and other transportation purposes by increasing the gas tax and vehicle registration fees.

The proposed constitutional amendment would:
• Eliminate sales / use taxes on gasoline / diesel fuel for vehicles on public roads.
• Increase portion of use tax dedicated to School Aid Fund (SAF).
• Expand use of SAF to community colleges and career / technical education, and prohibit use for 4-year colleges / universities.
• Give effect to laws, including those that:

o Increase sales / use tax to 7%, as authorized by constitutional amendment.
o Increase gasoline / diesel fuel tax and adjust annually for inflation, increase vehicle registration fees, and dedicate revenue for roads and other transportation purposes.
o Expand competitive bidding and warranties for road projects.
o Increase earned income tax credit

Should this proposal be adopted?

Yes or No

Confusing? Voters shot this down 80% to 19%.

 

A referendum can be even more confusing. Sturgis, Michigan voters voted to keep this law 69% to 31%.

Should the City of Sturgis repeal Part II – Chapter 10 Animals
– Article II Dogs and Cats –
Section 10-33 of the City of Sturgis Code of Ordinances?
Sec. 10-33. – Operating a dog kennel in city prohibited.
No person, group of persons, association or corporation shall keep, operate, or maintain a dog kennel within the limits of the city. A dog kennel, as used in this section means any establishment wherein or whereon more than two dogs are owned, kept, or harbored. This section shall not apply to the owning, keeping, or harboring of any dog pups until they attain the age of four months.
Yes or No

As you can see, ballot titles are not always easy to understand.

 

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Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, Initiative, Our million dollar vote, politicians

Colorado Legislators Show Contempt For Citizens

Colorado legislators finally ended their session and went home, but not before weakening voters petition rights.

HB15-1057 creates petty new hurdles for initiatives.

In Colorado the politicians love making the initiative harder. Initiatives must have two sponsors. There are multiple review and comment hearings where the public can complain about the petition and changes can be demanded. Each time a change occurs a new comment hearing must be held. This process takes months. A representative of the sponsors had been required to attend each of these review hearings. If they didn’t attend it started the entire process over. This can be tedious considering a sponsor from Cortez would need to drive over 7 hours to be in Denver for the hearing. But they could have a representative in Denver attend in their place. Not anymore!

How petty can legislators be? They now require both sponsors to attend every hearing, and if one of the sponsors is unable to attend for any reason, the initiative is withdrawn and the process must be restarted.

From the bill:

BOTH DESIGNATED REPRESENTATIVES OF THE PROPONENTS MUST APPEAR AT ALL REVIEW AND COMMENT MEETINGS. IF EITHER DESIGNATED REPRESENTATIVE FAILS TO ATTEND A MEETING, THE MEASURE IS CONSIDERED WITHDRAWN BY THE PROPONENTS.
IF ONE OF THE TWO DESIGNATED REPRESENTATIVES FAILS TO ATTEND THE REVIEW AND COMMENT MEETING ,THE PETITION IS DEEMED TO BE AUTOMATICALLY  RESUBMITTED TO THE DIRECTORS OF THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL AND THE OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE LEGAL SERVICES FOR REVIEW AND COMMENT, UNLESS THE DESIGNATED  REPRESENTATIVE PRESENT OBJECTS TO THE AUTOMATIC RESUBMISSION.
NO LATER THAN FIVE BUSINESS DAYS AFTER THE RESUBMISSION , THE DIRECTORS SHALL CONDUCT A REVIEW AND COMMENT MEETING IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE REQUIREMENTS OF THIS SECTION.
IF BOTH DESIGNATED REPRESENTATIVES FAIL TO ATTEND THE REVIEW AND COMMENT MEETING OR IF THE DESIGNATED REPRESENTATIVE PRESENT OBJECTS TO THE AUTOMATIC RESUBMISSION, THE PROPONENTS MAY THEREAFTER RESUBMIT THE INITIATIVE PETITION IN ACCORDANCE WITH SUBSECTION (1) OF THIS SECTION

 

 

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Canada’s New E-Petition

E-Petitioning is coming. In the near future we can expect politicians to enact some creative laws to allow for citizens to sign petitions electronically. A few trial versions have been talked about, but no game changing legislation has yet been proposed. Plenty of non-binding online petition websites are currently offering people the opportunity to sign and show their support for an issue. However these are not legally binding.
In Canada a new e-petition initiative process has been proposed. Formal have been adopted a recent article in the International Business Times said this:

Under the e-petition system, new rules allow citizens to propose an initiative on anything– federal funding, new demands, even views on controversial issues according to its proponent Stewart.

In e-petition, the stipulation is that it must be sponsored by an MP and must be backed by 500 signatures, if it is an online submission, in 120 days before it can be read in Parliament. Also, the minister in charge of the matter should respond to a successful initiative within 45 days.

The law makers are hoping that e-petitions would help reverse many troubling political trends. It may also help in arresting the sagging political participation. The voter turnout dipped to 61 percent since 2000 from the 73 percent in the 1980s. Many burning issues of people get ignored in the heat of party politics by MPs under the pressure of excessive partisanship. They have little freedom to vote on their own convictions or honour the wishes of their constituents. The e-petition may anull that predicament.

Another non-binding petition process in the EU is often used but the politicians rarely obey the will of petitioners.

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Filed under Initiative, Petition Drive, politicians, Uncategorized

Elgin, Texas Mass Transit Amendment

The Elgin Petitioners Committee successfully gathered signatures on a petition that will require voter approval before the city spends taxpayer money on passenger train service.

From their website:

An Important Message For The Citizens Of Elgin

From the Elgin Petitioners Committee

The Austin area population is growing rapidly. This growth has led to major congestion on roads like IH 35 and MoPac. Elgin, and other communities in the US 290E corridor, are projected to experience similar growth in coming years.

TxDOT had planned for improving 290E to a 6 lane divided freeway. CAMPO, the regional planning agency in Austin, had pledged $148 million towards the 290E project but 4 or 5 years ago the Elgin City Council allowed TxDOT and CAMPO to divert our 290E money into other projects.

The official long range transportation plan for the 5 county region now calls for no improvements whatsoever for 290E until sometime after the year 2035. The only road improvement scheduled for the Elgin area between now and 2035 is the adding of 2 lanes to N Ave C between SH 95 and County Line Road. (SH 95 is to be widened in Williamson County in the year 2024.)

We believe that members of the City Council who advocate building a passenger train project between Elgin and Austin (the “Green Line”) may have traded away our road funding to get approval of the train project. The Elgin Petitioners Committee supports building a train line but only after the improvements to 290E and other important arteries are upgraded.

To that end, we are circulating a petition which would require the City Council to place a measure on the ballot. The ballot proposition will allow the citizens to vote for roads first, or trains first. We believe that 90% of the citizens agree that this is a good idea.

We want 290E put back into the list of transportation projects and we want our funding restored. The alternative is having 290E just as congested as IH 35 or MoPac.

The ballot language:

“The City has the power to spend taxpayer money to construct and maintain streets, roads, highways, bike trails, sidewalks and mass transit facilities, except that no taxpayer money may be spent on or contractually pledged to any passenger train project unless a public bus line shall have first demonstrated a need for train service by having 500 intercity boardings in Elgin per weekday, averaged over three months, connecting to the City of Austin.”

 

Sample Ballot

TX_Elgin_5_9_15_CitySampleBallot

Notice of Election

TX_Elgin_5_9_15_NoticeOfelection

 

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Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, crony capitalism, Initiative, Our million dollar vote, Petition Drive, politicians