Monday, February 19, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Sessions should end this government cash grab

Apparently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not get the memo. The plan was to Make America Great Again, not Make America Greedy Again. And yet Sessions' directive to roll back Obama-era reforms on civil forfeiture policies amounts to little more than a government cash grab. It is a decision that is popular with neither Democrats nor Republicans, and it should be immediately reconsidered.

The broader concept behind asset forfeiture is certainly defensible. Seizing money or property that was used or acquired in a crime can be profitable for governments while, theoretically, bankrupting criminal enterprises. But that's the problem with Sessions' policies; it's not confined to convicted criminals. By returning to the practice known as "adoptive forfeiture,'' the government is allowed to seize property without even charging a person with a crime. That is the very definition of un-American.

According to Institute for Justice figures in a recent Time magazine report, the federal government seized more than $3.2 billion in cash from 2007-15 without ever filing criminal charges.

More than a dozen states, including Florida, have passed laws that limit what police can and cannot do when it comes to claiming personal property. Yet the new federal guidelines can supersede other reforms. State and local law enforcement officials will be able to seize assets and then turn them over to the federal government. The feds can pool these assets together and then send 80 percent of the value back to local agencies. This is, in essence, legalized money laundering.

Upon announcing a return to this more aggressive policy in July, Sessions said it was a necessary, and lawful, tool to fight organized crime. He said it aligned with President Donald Trump's get-tough policing policies. The Justice Department has announced some modest safeguards that supposedly will protect citizens from abuses seen in the past. But the reality is that much of the money and property seized involves relatively minor amounts. They are not coming from some vast criminal empire.

Making matters worse, citizens who have had money or property confiscated often face confusing and costly hurdles while trying to be made whole again. In one notable case, a driver was pulled over for speeding on a road in Texas known to be popular with drug smugglers. Police discovered a safe in the trunk with more than $200,000 in cash and confiscated it. The owner, who was never charged with a crime, insisted the money came from the sale of a home. Because of procedural problems, the case was not heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. That did not stop Justice Clarence Thomas from offering the opinion that "this system — where police can seize property with limited judicial oversight and retain it for their own use — has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses.''

This is not a partisan issue. Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have spoken out against civil forfeiture. One of the Supreme Court's most conservative members has now blasted it. And when state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, proposed a bill in 2016 to protect citizens from civil forfeitures, it was supported by both the conservative James Madison Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union. Jeff Sessions, the nation's top law official, needs to get on board with the rest of the nation and stop abusing citizens with this fundamentally unfair policy of seizing private property.

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Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

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Published: 02/17/18
Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

The city of Tampa should have taken Tanja Vidovic seriously from the start when the Tampa firefighter complained about her treatment in the workplace. Now that a jury and judge have spoken, itís time for City Hall to cut its losses, learn from its mi...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

The dark cloud enveloping Tampa Bayís job placement centers keeps growing. There are accusations of forged documents, evidence of nepotism and concerns about grossly inflated performance numbers that could be tied to receiving more public money and b...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

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Published: 02/15/18
Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

The Florida Department of Children and Families is right to call for a timely and "comprehensive" review of Hillsborough Countyís foster care system. Though the probe is a reaction to a recent case involving a child who was left unattended, the revie...
Published: 02/14/18

A Washington Post editorial: Modernize 911 calling before it becomes an emergency

This Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the first 911 emergency call placed in the United States. Since then, uncounted lives have been saved and people helped. It has been a great accomplishment of government.But even as an estimated 240 million 9...
Published: 02/13/18
Updated: 02/14/18
Editorial: Scott, Cabinet cannot be trusted on felonsí voting rights

Editorial: Scott, Cabinet cannot be trusted on felonsí voting rights

Gov. Rick Scott always has been grudging and imperious about restoring the voting rights of felons, requiring them to wait for years before begging the governor and Cabinet to be recognized again as citizens. That arrogance is on full display in a le...
Published: 02/13/18
Another voice: ĎDreamersí donít know whom to trust on immigration

Another voice: ĎDreamersí donít know whom to trust on immigration

Immigrants brought into this country illegally as children by their parents may be wondering whom to trust. The political theater being played out in Washington hasnít settled the status of either the "Dreamers" or the estimated 11 million other undo...
Published: 02/13/18
Editorial: Promising Tampa stadium site for Rays

Editorial: Promising Tampa stadium site for Rays

While it came as little surprise, the Tampa Bay Raysí selection of an Ybor City site near Tampaís Channel District as the best spot for a new stadium is an important milestone in the effort to keep Major League Baseball. Now comes the hard work of de...
Published: 02/09/18
Editorial: Senate should reject Houseís attack on public schools

Editorial: Senate should reject Houseís attack on public schools

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Published: 02/08/18
Updated: 02/13/18