Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday became the latest state leader to sign contentious legislation restricting civil asset forfeiture — the process that allows police to seize and keep property suspected of being connected to illegal activity without having to convict, or even charge, the owner with a crime.
Hogan’s signature represents a reversal for the Republican governor, who, under pressure from high-profile law enforcement groups, vetoed a bill on the same subject last year. The General Assembly promptly overrode the veto to pass that measure and then introduced additional changes this year that limit state involvement in a federal forfeiture program and require authorities to report what they seize.
Widespread civil forfeiture has been controversial since becoming a key tool in the drug war in the 1980s. The back-and-forth in Maryland is part of a fresh round of battles being waged in statehouses nationwide because Congress has stalled on passing federal reforms — though a new federal measure was introduced Thursday.
Some 50 bills have been floated in at least 22 states this year to limit civil forfeiture. Nine states have passed some form of reform law, while similar measures failed in six, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of the legislation. Eleven bills are pending in seven states.