PHOENIX (AP) — Gov. Doug Ducey is caught between the state legislature and county prosecutors after lawmakers unanimously approved a bill that would make it tougher for prosecutors to seize property from people suspected of a crime.
House Bill 2477 by Republican Rep. Eddie Farnsworth is meant to reform rules dictating when prosecutors can seize the property of those suspected of a crime. Officers can currently seize property based on suspicion alone without the need of a conviction or a charge. Police and prosecutors acquire Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization or RICO funds after seized property is forfeited.
The measure comes after recent inquiries into whether officials in Pinal County have misused seizure profits and a guilty plea from a former top Pima County official to misusing RICO funds in February.
The issue of RICO abuse has been growing across the nation in the past few years. Lawmakers in Iowa and Idaho backed overhauls of their state programs this year.
The full Arizona Senate unanimously passed the amended measure Monday, sending it back to the House for final approval before it heads to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk. The House had unanimously approved the original bill in February.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said he has made his opposition to the measure clear to the governor, but said Wednesday he has not communicated a formal veto request.
“There still is the outside chance in the legislative process that remaining concerns could be addressed,” Montgomery said. “I don’t want to be a fatalist.”
The proposal is backed by diverse groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity.
Farnsworth said RICO laws have deviated from their original intent to pursue big criminal enterprises like cartels and are now hitting smaller time infractions. He said his bill will increase accountability through its reporting requirements and redirect the laws to fulfill their actual purpose.
Farnsworth said the Legislature’s unanimous approval thus far tells him “that there is obviously a pent-up demand for reform because of what’s going on.”
The measure would change Arizona’s civil asset forfeiture laws to require prosecutors to prove property was involved in a crime by “clear and convicting” evidence, a step above the current standard.
Opponents say the changes would cause logistical issues for county boards of supervisors and county attorneys. They also criticize the bill’s further standard of proof requirement and the claim that excessive seizures take place.
The bill would require agencies to apply for RICO funding through the attorney general’s office or county attorney with a description of the monies’ proposed use, and later gain approval by the board of supervisors.
Gov. Doug Ducey said Tuesday he thinks this is an area of law that is in need of reform, although he didn’t say whether he would sign the measure.
Associated Press reporters Bob Christie and Jacques Billeaud contributed to this story.
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