The future of civil asset forfeiture after HB 17-1313

CML was not quiet in our disappointment that HB 17-1313, so-called civil asset forfeiture reform, was signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper on June 9. The governor established a task force to identify further reforms and improvements to civil asset forfeiture in Colorado. The task force will present recommendations to the General Assembly. The first meeting of the task force is Thursday, August 10 and CML will be at the table.

The task force membership includes:

  • Colorado Department of Public Safety (CDPS) – Executive Director Stan Hilkey, Co-chair
  • Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) – Executive Director Irv Halter, Co-chair
  • Tim Neville, R-Littleton
  • Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village
  • Leslie Herod, D-Denver
  • Stephen Humphrey, R-Severance
  • Representative from the Department of Revenue (DOR)
  • Representative from the American Civil Liberties Union
  • Representative from Colorado District Attorneys’ Council
  • Representative from the Attorney General’s Office
  • Representative from County Sheriffs of Colorado
  • Representative from the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police
  • Representative from the Fraternal Order of Police
  • Representative from the Colorado Municipal League (Meghan Dollar)
  • Representative from Colorado Counties, Inc.
  • Representative from the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar
  • Representative from the Drug Policy Alliance
  • Representative from Office of the Independent Monitor, City & County of Denver

In his letter to the General Assembly, the Governor outlined a broad scope for the task force to work within. Unfortunately, the League asserts that scope expands outside of just implementing HB 17-1313. It adds topics such as due process protections and guidelines for how local law enforcement agencies may utilize the funds they receive through the federal forfeiture process. CML is troubled by attempts to use the task force as a vehicle to expand the impact of what is already very problematic legislation for law enforcement as it:

  • Limits law enforcement from going after dangerous criminal enterprises such as human trafficking, illegal drug and marijuana sales, and organized crime.
  • Establishes arbitrary thresholds based on unsubstantiated assumptions.
  • Creates an inappropriate role DOLA to collect fines from local governments.

Identifying the best way to implement the legislation while mitigating any impact to public safety should be the task force’s top priority and CML will represent that position.

Though the task force has yet to begin its work, HB 17-1313 is effective August 9th. In that light, CML drafted a white paper for interested municipal officials. The paper has answers to frequently asked questions surrounding the reporting requirement, potential fines, and when a seizing agency may participate in a share back with the federal government. This is a working document, and it may change as the task force forms recommendations. For example, DOLA is currently the state agency that is mandated to collect and compile reports from local law enforcement, and the task force may recommend that CDPS may be the more appropriate entity for this task.

Though HB 17-1313 is now law, the debate on civil asset forfeiture reform is far from over. CML would certainly like to see improvements made to the Colorado asset forfeiture system, and we look forward to taking part in that discussion. The task force must present recommendations to the general assembly by December 1. During that time, CML will update the necessary information to make sure municipalities have the right tools to ease implementation. This will also include any information related to the recent announcement that federal restrictions established during the Obama Administration would be rolled back.

In the meantime, any suggestions for CML staff to bring to the task force are welcome and should be emailed to Meghan Dollar.






Construction Defects: Will there actually be a fix in 2017?

Since 2001, construction defect legislation and litigation have had a significant impact on the construction of new affordable housing options in Colorado. Many developers, affordable housing advocates, and local officials attribute to the rise of construction defect cases to the decline of affordable owner-occupied attached housing in Colorado. Communities are faced with the decline of this housing stock in their communities and a large gap in affordable housing. This type of housing is not only popular for first time home buyers, but the aging population also is looking to downsize and, wherever possible, live closer to transit options.

Today, owner-occupied attached housing (condos)represents just 2 percent of new housing starts in the Denver metro area, compared to 20 percent in 2007. Because of this, would-be first-time home buyers, including young professionals, have significantly fewer options and are increasingly being forced into the skyrocketing rental market. The lack of condo options also leaves behind seniors who are looking to downsize from single-family homes. Rising rents all over the state of Colorado and lack of housing stock are amounting to a “housing squeeze” on Colorado citizens. The impact on low income families is even more severe.

Since the legislature has yet to adopt a statewide fix, several municipalities have adopted their own reforms. These communities include: Aurora, Arvada, Broomfield, Castle Rock, Centennial, Colorado Springs, Commerce City, Denver, Durango, Fort Collins, Lakewood, Littleton, Lone Tree, Loveland, Parker, Westminster, and Wheat Ridge. Each municipality designed a reform ordinance that they believe will work for their community. Solutions vary from allowing a developer a period of time to fix the issue, to utilizing plat notes, to creating barriers for suit involving specific building code violations.

However, this is not just a metro Denver issue. For example, several mountain towns are working to form a coalition to solve the issue in their communities. Even more rural, less populated areas are feeling the effect of the lack of residential ownership opportunities for their citizens.

The Colorado Municipal League supports common sense reforms to Colorado’s construction defect statute and that reform is in SB 16-156. This legislation creates a quick resolution process that is fair to homeowners who need repairs while protecting the rights of all owners in a community. CML is strongly advocating for the bill. At the same time, SB 17-157 as introduced provides a weaker change to the construction defect law while preempting meaningful reform at the local level, and the League is opposing this insufficient measure.

CML supports:

  • Alternative Dispute Resolution
  • Notice given to all unit owners
  • A simple majority vote of all unit owners before entering in a lawsuit

CML opposes:

  • Local preemption without a meaningful, comprehensive statewide solution

Construction defect reform is as important to local communities as it is to developers and contractors. There are clearly many forms a solution can take and local governments are already far ahead of the state in attempting to bring back condominiums in their municipalities. Municipal citizens need high quality affordable housing sooner rather than later, and local governments will continue to help provide that most basic of needs.


The War to End Homelessness

Solving homelessness remains a top priority for municipalities. However, inflammatory, inaccurate rhetoric continues to portray as cities and towns “criminalizing persons experiencing homelessness.”

A report recently released by  the University of Denver, specifically the Homeless Advocacy Policy Project,  purports that Colorado municipalities spend roughly $5 million enforcing ordinances that criminalize homelessness.

First, CML disagrees with the initial assumption of the study that that these ordinances criminalize homeless. These laws involve time, place and manner restrictions used in every Colorado jurisdiction to protect the public space and to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all residents.  They address behavior and not status, and apply to all municipal citizens. Second, there are a number of flaws with the study that include not taking into account cases that may have been dismissed or ignoring municipal ordinances that set specific guidelines for law enforcement to connect homeless individuals with services. Third, the study does not take into account the millions of dollars in funding municipalities provide in services for persons experiencing homelessness. In Denver alone, $47 million dollars will be spent in 2016 on direct and indirect costs for services, an increase over prior years.  Municipalities like Colorado Springs, Boulder, and Fort Collins also have robust programs to reduce the number of homeless and address their specific needs.

Furthering the false narrative of a “war on the homeless” is legislation continually introduced in the Statehouse.  This year, HB 16-1191 is currently before the General Assembly and would create a “Bill of Rights” for these individuals. There are a multitude of issues with this legislation. Most significantly, the proposed bill does nothing to solve homelessness. It does not provide additional resources nor provides funding so local governments can continue to improve and expand services to those citizens in need.

CML opposes HB 16-1191, “the Right to Rest Act” not because municipalities care less about their vulnerable populations. On the contrary, cities and towns spend millions in services annually. Let’s change the conversation to expanding resources to get citizens housed and ending the cycle of homelessness.

 The Denver Post said it best. “No one is trying to sweep homelessness under the rug — not in Denver nor in many cities that are proud of their own initiatives.”

What Colorado needs are long term, collaborative state and local solutions to this very difficult issue, and Colorado municipalities’ efforts are currently leading the way.