State Capitol

State Capitol

The Government Oversight Committee in the Iowa House is planning to conduct a review of the state’s civil forfeiture laws after a newspaper investigation raised what one lawmaker calls “significant concerns.”

A Des Moines Register investigation found law enforcement in Iowa has used civil forfeiture laws to seize $43 million in the past six years — sometimes without ever arresting the person involved or charging them with a crime. Representative Mary Wolfe, a Democrat from Clinton, said the newspaper’s report has sparked posts on her Facebook page.

“I wasn’t aware of just quite how grievous the situation was in some counties,” Wolfe said. “I know certainly on my Facebook that’s certainly blown up and people are appalled.”

The majority of the money seized by police and other law enforcement in Iowa is used to buy new equipment or pay for officer training, but The Register’s investigation found some counties are using the confiscated funds for questionable things, like buying “tropical fish, scented candles, mulch and other items that appear to have little or no direct link to law enforcement activities.”

Wolfe, a member of the House Government Oversight Committee, cited the newspaper’s accounts during the committee’s meeting on Thursday.

“It’s something that somebody needs to address,” Wolfe said. “And I would love to see us do it and do it in a very decisive manner and in the relatively near future.”

Republican Representative Bobby Kaufmann of Wilton is chairman of the Oversight Committee and he agreed the panel should address the issues that have been raised.

“I’ve had a lot of law enforcement contact me and say, ‘Hey, let’s see if we can find a way to narrow this down so that we’re not endangering the 98 percent of law enforcement that do this properly,” Kaufmann said.

And Kaufmann said legislators should find a way to close loopholes that allow civil forfeiture laws to “be abused.”

The issue is being raised on the presidential campaign trail in Iowa, too. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who will formally enter the GOP race next week, is sponsoring legislation to reign in forfeitures and is bringing up the issue during campaign speeches here.