Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas. Mr. Speaker, this legislation has been long in coming. I know on behalf of the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. CONYERS), we want to thank the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. HYDE) because this is legislation that the gentleman from Illinois has worked on extensively and without rest. The gentleman from Illinois has worked in a bipartisan manner. He has those of us who have had disagreements sometimes rally around this legislation because in every single one of
our districts we found someone's mother, someone's wife, someone's sister, some innocent person who has been law abiding but because we are part of a great family, have found some family member outside of the law who has brought down the heavy hand of the law on hardworking people who have retained, if you will, or worked hard for the properties that they have.
I want to pay tribute to the gentleman; and I know the gentleman from Michigan would because, as I just heard a few moments ago, this is truly a bipartisan bill. I want to distinguish the fact that this is on the suspension calendar because we have had some vigorous debates here just earlier this morning about the process of suspensions bypassing committee, and I would not want this legislation to be defined accordingly.
This bill has been worked and worked and worked and your staff, George, we thank you, we know you have been on the battle line working hard to make sure that this comes together. I want to acknowledge Perry Apelbaum and Cori Flam likewise and say that we rise in support of this legislation, a bipartisan bill that is a result of extensive negotiations and deliberations with our colleagues in the Senate, Senators HATCH, LEAHY, SESSIONS and SCHUMER as well as the Department
of Justice. I might do a slight editorial note and say that out of the bipartisan effort, the bill from the House may not be the exact same and I might have wanted the bill from the House maybe because I am a House Member but we are gratified that we finally resolved it and it has come back for a vote.
Mr. Speaker, the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act makes common sense changes to our civil asset forfeiture laws to make these procedures fair and more equitable. H.R. 1658 strikes the right balance between the needs of law enforcement and the right of individuals to not have their property forfeited without proper safeguards. I recall that we actually had hearings on this, and I recall some of the really horrific stories of individuals losing their only house, their only source of income because
of this law.
Would you believe that under current law, the government can confiscate an individual's private property on the mere showing of probable cause? That is under current law. Then even though that person has never been arrested, much less convicted of a crime, the government requires a person to file action in a Federal court to prove that the property is not subject to forfeiture just to get the property back. Well, that is true.
We can imagine that the gentleman from Michigan enthusiastically embraced and worked with the gentleman from Illinois on this legislation. There is no question that forfeiture laws can, as Congress intended, serve legitimate law enforcement purposes. My own police department, a simple and small example, promotes and utilizes or has utilized civil forfeiture laws as relates to drug intervention and drug crimes. But they are currently susceptible to abuse. That is why the bill makes reforms to
the current civil forfeiture regimen.
To highlight a few examples, the bill places the burden of proof where it belongs, with the government agency [Page: H2052]
that performed the seizure, and it protects individuals from the difficult task of proving a negative, in other words, proving that their property was not subject to forfeiture. H.R. 1658 also permits the awarding of attorney's fees if the claimant substantially prevails, creates an innocent owner defense and permits a court to provisionally
return property to a claimant on a showing of substantial hardship where, for example, the forfeiture crippled the functioning of a business, prevented an individual from working or left an individual homeless. Is that not justice for Americans? These reforms simply balance the scales so that innocent people have a level playing field on which to challenge improper seizures.
H.R. 1658 also makes certain changes to help law enforcement crack down on criminal activities. For example, the bill permits courts to enter restraining orders to secure the availability of the property subject to civil forfeiture, and it clarifies that the law prohibiting the removal or destruction of property to avoid prosecution applies to seizures as well as forfeitures.
As I see the ranking member on the floor of the House, I know that he will have much to say about this bipartisan effort. But I am hoping that this bill, although it appears on the suspension calendar, will evidence the hard work that we have done collectively on the Committee on the Judiciary on this very issue. I thank both the chairman and the ranking member for their efforts. I am very proud to support this bill today personally and to ask my colleagues to join us in supporting this important
Mr. HYDE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 30 seconds. I want to thank the gentlewoman from Texas for her very cordial remarks. I want to particularly thank the gentleman from Michigan and his staff and make a point. This Committee on the Judiciary in this House of Representatives can work together in a bipartisan fashion to turn out good legislation. This is one example. There are many others. This bill had its genesis in a newspaper article written by Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune several
years ago. When I read what was going on under civil asset forfeiture, I thought it was more appropriate for the Soviet Union than the United States, and it has taken 7 years but we are there today and it is a great moment.
Mr. Speaker, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from New York (Mr. SWEENEY).