March 17, 2015

House backs civil forfeiture reform, barring advisory questions on ballot

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The House passed a bill on Tuesday that would change the state law on civil forfeiture and another that would only allow questions with the force of law to appear on election ballots.

RoundhouseRep. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, said he sponsored the legislation related to civil forfeiture reform “so that people’s due process rights are given to them.”

The bill would only allow police to seize property related to a crime for which the person was convicted. It comes as wider attention is paid to the issue of civil forfeiture nationally.

Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, commented on how Las Cruces received national attention after a the New York Times posted video of the Las Cruces city attorney speaking about civil forfeiture.

“This issue created a firestorm in November,” McCamley said.

Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, noted that the expert witnesses on the debate were from the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and the Rio Grande Foundation—two groups seen as being on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum.

The legislation passed unanimously on a 56-0 vote and now goes to the Senate.

Questions with the force of law on the ballot

Another bill sponsored by Cook that passed on Tuesday afternoon would stop any so-called “advisory questions” from appearing on ballots.

There was very little debate on the legislation, especially as compared to previous controversial legislation that has been a hallmark of the House floor this session.

Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Espanola, wondered about the legislation applying to local ballots as well as statewide ballots.

Secretary of State Dianna Duran said last year that these questions were not allowed on the ballot. The question came up when Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties placed advisory questions on the ballot in the 2014 elections.

The state Supreme Court disagreed and allowed the advisory questions to go on the ballot in 2014. Most notably, the questions were on decriminalizing marijuana.

It passed on a 40-19 vote and now heads to the Senate.

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