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Georgia Legislature Should Rewrite Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws

Mike Klein

Civil asset forfeiture – which is defined as law enforcement’s authority to seize private property on the suspicion of a crime — has landed on the Georgia State Capitol doorstep.  This week the Georgia Public Policy Foundation called for a rewrite of the state’s asset forfeiture laws to protect citizens whose property was seized even though they are charged with no crime.

“This issue is more of a threat to private property in Georgia than any other issue,” said GPPF President Kelly McCutchen.  “When you have an innocent owner who has done nothing wrong, hasn’t been convicted of a crime, has not been accused of a crime, and their own government seizes property without compensation, and they have to sue to get their property back, that should not occur in the United States of America and it should not occur in Georgia.”

The Foundation is joined by the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based public interest law firm that focuses on civil asset forfeiture laws.  Last March the Institute sued Atlanta and Fulton County to force compliance with state laws that require civil asset seizures disclosure.  The city and county relented and agreed to comply with a court order to submit past and future forfeiture reports.

Lee McGrath, Institute for Justice

Institute for Justice legislative counsel Lee McGrath joined McCutchen at the State Capitol, as did Southern Center for Human Rights Executive Director Sara Totonchi and NAACP Coffee County, Georgia chapter President Larry NeSmith.  McGrath outlined the findings from the Institute’s March, 2011 study that reported on Georgia asset seizures over nearly 20 years.

“Georgia has some of the worst forfeiture laws in the country,” McGrath said.  “You can lose your property without ever being accused of a crime, never mind being convicted.”  Last year the Institute graded Georgia “D-,“ one of the four lowest grades in a 50-state national ranking.

“Worse, Georgia law enforcement agencies get to keep up to 100 percent of the proceeds of property they seize,” McGrath said.  “We are here today to call on the Georgia state legislature to reform these laws, to respect property and to put into place restrictions on the power of law enforcement to seize property and to profit from forfeiture laws.”

The Institute’s March, 2011, Georgia report “Forfeiting Accountability” said: “Civil forfeiture is the power of law enforcement to seize cash, cars, homes and other property on the mere suspicion of criminal activity.  Unlike criminal forfeiture, the owner need not be convicted to lose property.  Indeed, a key problem with Georgia’s law is that it forces owners to prove their innocence to get their property back, effectively treating people caught up in forfeiture proceedings as guilty until proven innocent.”

The Foundation and Institute proposed a three-tier rewrite of Georgia asset forfeiture law.  First, eliminate civil asset forfeiture and replace it with just criminal asset forfeiture.  “No one convicted of a crime should keep the ill-gotten gains from that activity but the government should have the burden of convicting you first before you lose final title to your property,” McGrath said.

Second, cash proceeds from asset forfeiture sales should be transferred to the state general fund, rather than be retained inside the budgets of local law enforcement agencies.

Third, the legislature should ensure innocent owners will have their personal property returned to them in a short period of time.  The Institute has documented numerous Georgia cases in which cash or real property was seized from individuals who had to file costly lawsuits to regain their property.  The value of those seizures was a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars.

Proceeds from asset forfeiture sales are significant.  The Institute 2011 report said, “The most recent statistics show that Georgia’s police and prosecutors share in more than $50 million in forfeiture proceeds a year.  This is made up of forfeitures conducted under state law that were reported at $38 million and forfeitures conducted under federal law that average more than $14 million annually between 2000 and 2008.”

Sara Totonchi of the Southern Center for Human Rights said, “The overreach of our civil forfeiture laws invade the lives of Georgians who might just simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Many of these individuals do not have the resources or the knowledge they need to regain what is rightfully theirs.”

Larry NeSmith of the NAACP Coffee County, Georgia chapter said, “Civil forfeiture procedures are so rigged in favor of the state that even innocent people weigh the costs and risks of trying to get back their property.  The public overwhelmingly supports civil forfeiture reform.  It is time for Georgia’s politicians to end the abuse of property rights by enacting sweeping reforms.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

January 6, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making The Grade: A Must See Film About Georgia School Choice

Mike Klein

The Georgia school choice story sometimes appears to need new faces and voices other than the usual suspects – politicians, teachers, charter school leaders and, yes, even policy folks who continue to push the pedal for increased school choice options.

Many new faces and voices tell their stories in a terrific film that will premiere Thursday evening at the Cobb Galleria Centre with remote showings at locations statewide.  “Making the Grade in Georgia: Educational Freedom and Justice for All” packs a lot into one half-hour.  Regardless of where you stand on school choice, this film should be watched because it educates.

Thursday’s Cobb Galleria Centre premiere is free to the public.  The Making the Grade in Georgia website has details plus information about live streaming locations scheduled in Albany, Ellijay, Rome and Atlanta.  The film was commissioned by Americans for Prosperity Foundation – Georgia.

“When parents choose then schools compete,” says Virginia Galloway, state director of AFP – Georgia. “When schools compete everybody wins because we have better options to offer the kids in Georgia.”  AFP – Georgia retained Atlanta TeleProductions to produce the documentary.

Much is at stake in the Georgia school choice movement.  Last spring the state Supreme Court overturned the charter schools commission.  Governor Nathan Deal approved a $10.9 million rescue that enabled several existing schools to open this year.  The future of Georgia charter schools authorization will be back before the General Assembly starting next week.

Now about new faces and voices in Making the Grade:  You will meet Jewel Faison, executive director at A School for Children in Albany.  “We provide multi-age, non-graded learning environments for children between the ages of seven to 17.  That means we get back to the one-room school house where everybody is important and every need is met,” says Faison.

“We’re not a school for children with difficulties.  We’re a school for children.  However, we have an opportunity to serve children that have had difficulties,” says Faison.  “When I see those childrens’ lives transformed … when they can begin to take correction and not respond negatively that is very impactful to me.  That gets me up in the morning.”

You will meet Perry Everson, a student at Pataula Charter Academy in Edison.  “We get to do this hands-on learning.  You just don’t sit there and copy all these things out of your textbook and memorize all these notes.  You get to go and actually do it.  It’s really helped me learn a lot more because you get to do it and once you do it, it really sticks in your brain.”

You will meet Kim Whipple, mother of eight.  Two are in college, one attends private school and five attend Georgia Cyber Academy.  “For those people who want to home school but don’t feel quite comfortable in doing that on their own… this is a perfect option,” Whipple says.

You will meet Morgan Giesler.  The young musical artist has her own website, five songs on iTunes; she recently recorded in Nashville and Morgan will be in Los Angeles this month to pursue her acting and singing.  Morgan is a hybrid school pupil; she studies at home and in a supervised setting.

“If you have a kid who is not having to go to the theater, doing singing, dancing, all this stuff, if they enjoy their public school and they like it, I think they should go there,” says Morgan.  “But if they don’t enjoy it and they are doing other things I think that is when you should move them.”  Her proud mother, Dina Giesler, says Morgan “is thriving.”

By some estimates, 1.5 million adult Georgians do not have a high school diploma.  More than 60,000 high school seniors failed to graduate on-time in 2010.  Our statewide high school graduation rate, about 65 percent on-time, puts Georgia in the bottom five of all 50 states.

“Our education system, I’m going to put it in my vernacular, is jacked up from the floor up.  It’s broken,” says Melvin Everson, chairman of Georgia’s EEOC.  “I support my public schools but we have to come to the realization, one size doesn’t fit all.  Home school, private school, public school, charter school; whatever it takes to educate this workforce, we better do it.”

The film says about three-in-ten Georgia students in lower grades achieve basic proficiency in reading and math.  “The impact of this is that the societal divide widens between the haves and the have nots,” says Jerri Nims Rooker, director at the Center for an Educated Georgia.

The long-term economic impact of an under-educated population is well documented:  lower lifetime earnings, higher unemployment and other social needs.  “We’re just losing generations of, especially, young minority males,” Georgia Tech economist Christine Ries says in the film.

Major players who support school choice are present.  “The challenges are enormous but we have to win this issue,” says Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers. “If we’re going to be competitive economically we’ve got to improve all schools,” says Georgia Public Policy Foundation president Kelly McCutchen.  “That’s why we believe in school choice.”

Making the Grade begins with the premise that school choice is good for Georgia and it stays on the point.  The film acknowledges Georgia public education progress in many sectors – special needs and tax credits scholarships, and the increased use of technology everywhere in learning – but it equally makes the point that not everyone has the same access.

“Success is when we have our students developing strong problem-solving skills, critical thinking skills,” says Steven Walker, CEO at Tech High School in Atlanta.  “You’re going to collaborate and learn how to work with each other and you’re going to learn how to communicate well and you’re going to be very respectful and understanding of your community as a citizen.  The biggest thing that we are proud of is we are preparing them to be successful.”

AFP – Georgia plans to make DVDs of Making the Grade available statewide.  Discussions are underway that could result in television broadcasts.  Thursday evening’s Cobb Galleria Centre and satellite viewing locations are open to the public.  The movie will also be streamed onto the documentary website at www.makingthegrademovie.com.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

January 4, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monday Live Blog: Georgia Jobs Conference

Final Version: 4:00 pm

The Georgia Department of Human Resources will utilize federal government stimulus funds to help Georgia employers fully fund new teen-aged hires during the June and July summer recess.  The announcement was made Monday by Human Resources commissioner B.J. Walker during the Georgia Department of Labor’s Georgia Jobs Summit at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center.

Labor commissioner Michael Thurmond announced his department will create Georgia Jump Start, a new focus on how to re-deploy existing resources without requiring legislative action.  The plan will be shared with Governor Sonny Perdue, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, and the General Assembly.  Perdue and Cagle did not attend the conference. GDOL executives also pledged more help to small business.  Panelists repeatedly said strengthening Georgia education remains the key to economic success. Continue reading

January 17, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment