Tag Archives: petition

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

Two Years Later Wyoming Supreme Court Rules For Petitioners

The Casper clerk rejected signatures that should have counted.

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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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Spending Priorities

When it comes to spending priorities, citizens are often entirely dependent on the stewardship of elected officials and public employees. Most people agree things like roads, fire departments, law enforcement, and schools are core functions of government. And most people are willing to pay taxes to support these services. Yet these are the first things threatened with cuts when politicians would like a tax increase. Politicians threaten to reduce library services rather than sell the city golf course (which consistently loses money. This is why initiative and referendum are often used by citizens when they don’t like the priorities of politicians.

 

Maine:

Stavros Mendros has filed paperwork to begin the referendum process and call for a people’s vote.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A group of concerned Mainers, including three Republican lawmakers, has launched a petition drive for a people’s veto of a controversial bill that extends General Assistance benefits to some immigrants for up to two years.

Mendros is not opposed to immigration but sees the need for prioritizing spending.

“I’m disappointed in the Legislature to come up with $300 million and not take people off of wait-lists. Waiting for nursing homes, our nursing homes are closing down waiting to be properly reimbursed,” Mendros said.

 

 

Milwaukee:

Petitioners want voters to have a say on a new city streetcar project.

If successful, the city would be required to hold a binding referendum before spending $10 million or more to expand or alter the streetcar plan approved by the Common Council in February.

 

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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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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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Online Petitions, Advisory Petitions, Plebiscite Petitions, and Initiative Petitions

Online petitions, advisory petitions, plebiscite petitions, and initiative petitions, each involve you signing your name in support of an issue. How are they different?

Online petitions are becoming more and more common. It’s easy to make an online petition. Google “petition” or “online petition” and you’ll get links to many places that will let you set up and account, link to your social media accounts, and ask your friends to sign your petition. Change.org, ipetition, and We The People are all petition sites where you can use social media to build awareness for your issue. People use these sites to put pressure on politicians, companies, individuals or organizations to change laws, policies, or behaviors. There are many success stories. These petitions are not legally binding. Online petitions are effective in the same manner a boycott or rally can be effective, by drawing attention to a problem and putting pressure on people who have the power to take action. They’re also very effective for building lists.

Advisory petitions are a less common form of legal petitions. An advisory petition typically allows citizens to call a non-binding vote on a particular issue. The results of that election are intended to show public support or opposition to an issue with the hope politicians will take action to change the law.

A plebiscite petition is similar to an online petition but it’s not done online. Circulators carry petition forms and ask people to sign in support of a specific issue. Like online petitions they are used to put pressure on decision makes. They are also used to build lists.

Initiative petitions are different, they are a legal document people sign to force government officials to call a vote on a specific piece of legislation written on the petition. When you sign an initiative petition or gather signatures on an initiative petition you are working to allow voters a choice on that piece of legislation. Initiative petitions lead to a binding vote and are governed by very specific laws. These laws require the petition to comply with many specific details, details that are different in every state. When sponsors of an initiative petition have gathered enough signatures and submit the petition, the governing body is compelled to let voters decide the issue. When voters go to the ballot box the legislation is presented as a ballot question and people vote to approve or reject the initiated legislation. If voters approve the legislation it become law in that political subdivision.

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Statute or Amendment

 

The initiative is a means to bypass politicians. In many initiative states initiators have the choice of circulating petitions to propose a statute or a constitutional amendment, (in home rule cities initiators choose between ordinance and charter amendment). In some states lawmakers have the option of approving statutes and ordinances without sending the issue to voters, amendments require voter approval. Amendments also require more petition signatures.

Why do most initiators choose to put in the extra money and effort to propose amendments? Once passed amendments can’t be overturned without a vote of the people.

Gathering signatures, fighting legal battles, and running a campaign is a big commitment most initiators are only willing to make when they know their initiative will result in real change. It’s not surprising most initiators choose to go the constitutional or charter amendment route when possible.

 

Two recent examples where legislators are able to mess with voter approved initiatives:

South Dakota lawmakers recently exempted persons under 18 from a minimum wage increase approved by voters last November. Supporters of the minimum wage increase are organizing to run a referendum petition drive to challenge the exemption.

Washington state voters approved an initiative last fall to require lower class sizes in public schools. The senate recently passed a measure to change the initiated law and only require k-3rd grade classes be reduced in size, now they want to send it back to voters (further delaying the class size requirement.)

 

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Misleading Ballot Titles

A ballot title is what you read when you vote on a ballot question. Ballot titles like push polls can result in huge differences in how voters perceive an issue at the moment when they must make a choice. In the case of recall, millage, or referendum most state statutes give fairly strict guidelines on how the question must appear on the ballot. Shall X be approved? Shall John Doe be recalled from office for XYZ?

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However when it comes to the initiative process writing a ballot title can be much more subjective. The law is different in every state and ballot titles are most commonly written in one of three ways:

State or local elections official or their agent, this might be the Attorney General, Secretary of State, or city clerk.

Legislative body, the legislature, city council, or county commission.

Proponents of the initiative, the group circulating petitions to call for an election on a particular initiative.

 

Problems occur when a ballot title appears biased. When the ballot title appears to make a yes or no vote sound more appealing, or is outright deceptive in explanation of the issue, people on the other side of the issue will justifiably take offense. In many cases this results in expensive lawsuits and people without deep pockets are at a huge disadvantage. Groups may spend tens of thousands of dollars only to have courts rule against them despite obvious bias.

This week a judge in Mississippi ruled that the legislature had crafted a ballot title that was deceptive.

“Judge Winston Kidd ruled in favor of Adrian Shipman, a mother of two in the Oxford Public Schools, that the legislature’s alternative language was too confusing and too similar to the original citizen’s initiative language. Kidd has ordered that language to be changed. The new alternative language, which was not immediately available, would follow a suggestion offered by Better Schools, Better Jobs, the group that worked to put the initiative on the ballot for this November.

The easiest remedy to this issue is to let voters read the entire measure on the ballot, but often lengthy legislation makes this impractical (I consider lengthy legislation a problem on its own).

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