TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are considering two proposals that would make it harder for police to seize and keep cash and property from people suspected in crimes.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that one bill would require law enforcement to get a criminal conviction before seizing assets. A second bill would create a new process for criminal forfeiture of property worth less than $100,000 and prevent law enforcement from seizing less than $200 cash or vehicles worth less than $2,000.

Currently, law enforcement can go to civil court to get approval to take property officers believe is linked to a crime. Supporters of the process say it serves as a deterrent to crime and provides important funding for law enforcement. 

The latest completed KBI report on the practice statewide said that in 2020 law enforcement agencies seized $5.1 million cash and $1.2 million in other property. Out of that, law enforcement agencies took $2.1 million in cash and nearly $800,000 in other property through the civil forfeiture process.

In one recent case, a federal lawsuit has been filed by a company that was transporting cash from legal medical marijuana dispensaries in Missouri challenging the seizure of nearly $166,000 last May. Law enforcement officials have defended the seizure because marijuana use remains illegal in Kansas.

Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter testified on behalf of the Kansas Sheriff’s Association that many seizures are related to traffic stops of couriers for drug dealers who often claim the money isn’t theirs.

“During these stops, probable cause exists to search the vehicles,” he said. “Large amount of money is seized and the mules do not claim the money as theirs, do not know how it got there and were only instructed to return the car to someone they do not know in Mexico.”

Jefferson County Attorney Joshua Ney supports forfeiture reform. He said the current law creates a potential for “profit motive” in law enforcement and prosecutor offices.

Jon Lueth with the Kansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity said police shouldn’t be able to claim property until after someone is convicted of a crime.

“A substantial portion of these seizures never results in criminal charges or a conviction,” he said. “This data reveals that law enforcement in Kansas is frequently using this power to seize the property of innocent Kansans without the necessary due process protections normally provided in our criminal justice system.”