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Property forfeiture and seizure law off the table

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A proposal to allow law enforcement officers to keep the proceeds and tools of misdemeanor drug and gun crimes lacks support on the Jefferson County Board of Legislators and was pulled from the agenda Wednesday.

The measure’s chief proponent, Legislator Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown, appeared to mourn the proposal’s lack of passing, saying: “If I can have some organ music...”

“It is going by the wayside for lack of support,” Mr. Gray told fellow legislators Wednesday at a Finance and Rules Committee hearing.

The proposed law would have allowed law enforcement to keep cash that was a result of misdemeanor drug crimes, or property that was used in the crime — for example, a car that was used to transport drugs.

But legislators balked at widening the types of crimes subject to seizure and forfeiture, which currently only includes felonies. Misdemeanor drug possession includes crimes like public possession of marijuana. A joint behind the ear, for example, can get one charged with a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors are punishable by less than a year in prison.

“I just don’t think it’s a deterrent,” said Legislator Philip N. Reed, R-Fishers Landing. “My constituents spoke loud and clear on it. The feedback I got reaffirmed my initial thoughts on it. I was against it. I’m glad it’s off the table.”

The law was nearly passed without much in the way of comment several weeks ago when the county moved to ban synthetic drugs within its borders. Proponents said that allowing police to take property related to drug crimes would deter dealers and users of everything from marijuana to bath salts. A court would have to approve any forfeiture.

But legislators, led by Michael Behling, R-Adams, requested more time to consider the message. Eventually, the bill was referred to Mr. Gray’s committee. But a majority of the 15 members of the board are now against it, Mr. Gray said, meaning it has no chance of passage.

“Maybe someday we can bring it back forward,” Mr. Gray said.

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