Wisconsin Addresses Asset Forfeiture and ‘Right to Try’ Bill


Politicians in Madison, Wisconsin have been exceedingly busy over the past couple of weeks. In addition to gaining bipartisan support for their so-called “Right to Try” bill, up for a vote today in the Wisconsin State Assembly; two other bills are hoping to reform the state’s asset forfeiture laws.

In an attempt to close a federal loophole in Wisconsin’s asset forfeiture laws and snuff out policing for profit, two bills – one in the Senate and a companion bill in the House – will challenge the federal government’s current forfeiture programs. Banning Wisconsin prosecutors from sidestepping state law and passing cases on to the federal government, these bills have gained widespread support from both sides of the political aisle.

Senate Bill 61, sponsored by Sen. David Craig (R) and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 25 legislators, would mandate “seized property be returned to innocent owners.” Meanwhile, over in the House, a companion bill to SB61, AB122, was also introduced. Requiring a conviction before prosecutors could proceed with asset forfeiture, the passage of these two bills would dramatically reform Wisconsin’s existing law. Currently, the State of Wisconsin can confiscate the personal assets of individuals accused of criminal activity, regardless of a person’s guilt or innocence, or if they’ve even been charged with a crime. The proposed modification to Wisconsin’s existing forfeiture law would also compel the court to establish that the seized property is equitable to the crime committed.

This bill allows property to be subject to forfeiture only after a person has been convicted of the crime related to the forfeiture action and only if a court finds that the property seized is proportional to the crime committed. If the person is acquitted or the charges against the person are dropped, the court must order that his or her property be returned within 30 days.

Good for schools and bad for cops, SB61 and AB122 would also mandate all asset forfeiture proceeds go to Wisconsin schools rather than the state’s many local law enforcement agencies.

As to Wisconsin’s “Right to Try” bill, which would allow terminally ill patients access to treatments that have passed basic phase 1 safety testing by the FDA, but are not yet available, Rep. Diane Hesselbein (D) praised her GOP cohorts for their help. “I am pleased to see that majority Republicans now support the ‘compassionate drug use’ bill that Senator Fred Risser and I sought to advance in the last legislative session.” Opposed to the legislation, the Wisconsin Medical Society acknowledges the bill will likely pass today.

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