January 9, 2017 Print

The presumption of innocence is a fundamental legal principle, but civil asset forfeiture laws allow government officials to seize the property of people who haven’t been convicted, or even charged, with a crime. That’s beginning to change in Ohio, thanks to a new law signed by Gov. John Kasich that implements sweeping reforms to the state’s forfeiture process. The Buckeye Institute, an Atlas Network partner based in Ohio, produced rigorous and convincing policy analysis that has been cited by the state legislature as a catalyst for the reforms.

“The Buckeye Institute provided tremendous policy expertise to those of us in the legislature fighting to reform civil asset forfeiture and defend the property rights of all Ohioans,” said Rep. Rob McColley, the bill’s primary sponsor, quoted by the Buckeye Institute in a recent press release. “Buckeye’s good work and leadership on criminal justice reforms more broadly — and on civil asset forfeiture specifically — help to ensure that Ohio is a leader in protecting our citizens.”

Although the new law doesn’t completely eliminate civil asset forfeiture, it requires officials in most cases to charge people with crimes before seizing their property, and places the burden of proof on the government rather than on the forfeiture victim. The law also prohibits seizure of amounts less than $15,000.

“Asset forfeiture transfers permanent ownership of the seized property to the state,” wrote Daniel Dew, the Buckeye Institute’s criminal justice fellow, in his policy brief published in the weeks preceding the legislative vote. “Such forfeiture occurs through a different legal process — well after the initial search and seizure at a crime scene — and it is that process that requires reform. Carefully crafted reforms will not impede law enforcement or make Ohio more attractive to drug cartels looking to hide illegal assets. Instead, civil asset forfeiture reform could extend constitutional protections to all Ohioans, remove improper financial incentives for enforcement agencies, improve relations between communities and their officers, and make local public servants more accountable to the people.”

This reform bill attracted a wide range of support “spanning the spectrum philosophically from the left to the right including the Coalition for Public Safety, the ACLU of Ohio, Faith & Freedom Coalition, and U.S. Justice Action Network,” the Buckeye Institute noted.

The Buckeye Institute had a second legislative victory only a day later, when Gov. Kasich signed a bill that allows doctors to receive continuing education credits “for donating their time to provide charity medical care for low income and rural Ohioans who otherwise would not have access to quality healthcare services.” The new law incentivizes doctors to provide care to those who can least afford it, without the use of tax dollars. The Buckeye Institute explained why the new law would be good for Ohioans in a policy brief published shortly before the legislative vote.

“By making charity care more rewarding for doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals to voluntarily serve low income and underserved patients, the amount of healthcare delivered to those Ohioans will increase at no cost to taxpayers,” the Buckeye Institute explained in a press release. “This is a superior alternative to expanding failed government programs, especially as those very same programs often deliver unacceptable results to those they claim to help.”