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Editorial: Burton's asset forfeiture bill worthy of serious consideration

Feb. 8, 2017 at 11:38 p.m.


We were pleased Wednesday to hear state Sen. Konni Burton's response to a thuggish threat made a day earlier by President Donald Trump.

Burton, a Colleyville Republican, said in a statement she "will not be discouraged nor deterred" by Trump's offer to a Texas sheriff to "destroy" a state senator's career over pending legislation to reform state law on asset forfeiture.

According to The Texas Tribune, the president's remark came during a White House meeting with sheriffs that included Rockwall County's Harold Eavenson. When Trump asked the gathered lawmen for input on how to improve law enforcement, Sheriff Eavenson spoke up.

"Asset forfeiture," he said. "We've got a state senator in Texas that's talking about introducing legislation to require conviction before we can receive that forfeiture money and I told him that the cartel would build a monument to him in Mexico if he could get that legislation passed."

"Who's the state senator?" Trump asked, apparently in jest. "Want to give his name? We'll destroy his career."

It was unclear if Eavenson was referring to Burton, who has filed a measure that would make it more difficult for law enforcement agencies to seize property from people who have been accused but not convicted of a crime.

He also might have been referring to Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, who filed his own bill relating to asset forfeiture and on Monday signed on as a cosponsor to Burton's. But Hinojosa, a McAllen Democrat, told reporters he had never met Eavenson and does not think the sheriff was referring to him.

For her part, Burton said Wednesday that she had not met the sheriff either but takes "exception to his comments."

"The moment for reform of our system of asset forfeiture has arrived," she said.

We agree.

While asset forfeitures sometimes involve cash from drug busts, police also can seize a suspect's car, boat, airplane, guns, real estate or any other property they say could be linked to illegal activities — and it happens in some cases without a suspect even being charged. As the value of such seizures has increased, they have played an increasing role in financing many agency's budgets.

Burton has said taking property before a conviction "flies in the face" of the Constitution and "denies people of their basic rights."

The senator is correct.

It should require more than mere suspicion of a crime for an American to see his or her property confiscated by the police, who then can keep or sell it.

Burton's Senate Bill 380 aims to replace the state's asset forfeiture law with one that in most cases would prohibit law enforcement officials from taking an individual's property without criminal conviction and create an orderly and transparent system for handling such property.

It appears to be the most comprehensive of several asset forfeiture reform measures filed in the Legislature, and represents a needed improvement over current state law. We would be pleased to see it move forward.

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