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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

 2:51 PM 

Column: Sensenbrenner tackles "over-criminalization"

This is an excerpt from Nicole Duran's weekly DC Wrap column. Sign up to get the full column in your inbox each week.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner introduced the first in a series of bills to rein in laws and policies he believes "over-criminalize" many activities.

His first target is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Earlier this month Sensenbrenner reintroduced legislation to eliminate the agency and divvy up its responsibilities between the Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI.

"The ATF is a scandal-ridden, largely duplicative agency that lacks a clear mission," the Menomonee Republican said. "Its 'Framework' is an affront to the Second Amendment and yet another reason why Congress should pass the ATF Elimination Act," Sensenbrenner added, referring to the agency's recent proposal to ban some armor-piercing bullets.

As part of his work on the House Judiciary Committee's Over-criminalization Task Force, Sensenbrenner concluded the nation's criminal system needs overhauling, and that eliminating the ATF is one step in that process, according to his spokesman.

Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Sherwood, has already signed on as a co-sponsor. The idea is not strictly a Republican one, however. Rep. John Conyers Jr., the Michigan Democrat who's dean of the House, is a long-time member of the House Judiciary Committee and has teamed up with Sensenbrenner on other matters, most notably updating the Voting Rights Act. He previously proposed rolling the ATF into other departments as well.

On Jan. 9, Conyers and GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Mike Lee of Utah joined Sensenbrenner in penning a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to reform federal asset forfeiture programs.

"[W]e have concerns that the government is not using the process fairly and instead is infringing on the rights of small business owners and motorists, some of whom are our constituents," the quartet wrote Holder.

Speaking about "adoptive seizures" and the "Equitable Sharing" program, the four lawmakers said current policy encourages local authorities to zealously seize property from people suspected of crimes, often without warrants and ultimately requiring citizens never charged with a crime to fight to get their cash or property back.

"Under this arrangement, state and local law enforcement agencies bring property seized under state law to a federal seizing agency for federal forfeiture and then can receive up to 80 percent of the proceeds of the resulting forfeiture," they wrote. "We are concerned that these seizures might circumvent state forfeiture law restrictions, create improper incentives on the part of state and local law enforcement, and unnecessarily burden our federal authorities."

Holder listened and a week later limited the Equitable Sharing program.

Nonetheless Sensenbrenner wants to see more progress in the asset forfeiture department and plans to introduce legislation further reigning in law enforcement's ability to seize property. He also plans to pen a bill that would revise and reorganize the federal criminal code, among other things.

Read Duran's column for more on this and other DC issues


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