It has been nearly two weeks since the New Mexico Legislature unanimously passed a strong, bipartisan bill to protect private property from overzealous law enforcement by banning civil asset forfeiture, and Gov. Susana Martinez has not given any indication as to whether she’ll sign the legislation into law.
HB 560 bans civil asset forfeiture, a tool used by law enforcement to take people’s property under the mere suspicion that it was used in a crime, by requiring a criminal conviction before property seized by law enforcement can be forfeited to the state. The bill also directs proceeds from forfeited property to the state’s general fund. This is a common sense bill for anyone who believes in property rights or due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.
The bill passed the Republican-controlled House without opposition on March 17 and the Senate, where Democrats have the majority, on March 21, the last day of the legislative session. But the window for Gov. Martinez to do the right thing and ban civil asset forfeiture is rapidly closing.
The New Mexico Constitution states that "[e]very bill presented to the governor during the last three days of the session shall be approved by him within twenty days after the adjournment and shall be by him immediately deposited with the secretary of state." The bill is automatically vetoed if no action is taken by noon on April 10.
The legislation has been praised by Lee McGrath of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest firm. "This bill," he said, "is one of the most powerful proposals in the country to end a practice that undermines American’s property rights and violates due process." The New Mexico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union also had strong words of support, noting that HB 560 "would end the legal fiction of civil forfeiture—that property can be responsible for a crime—and replaces it with criminal forfeiture."
HB 560 isn’t a bill that needs a lot of thought. It protects the limited government principles of private property and due process in which every conservative believes. Gov. Martinez, what are you waiting for?