In a bipartisan effort, Congress is working to prevent the government from wrongfully seizing Americans’ assets by attempting to limit its use of civil asset forfeiture.
The House unanimously passed the Clyde-Hirsch-Sowers-RESPECT Act in September— spearheaded by Illinois Republican Rep. Peter Roskam and New York Democrat Rep. Joe Crowley — which would prevent the government from seizing funds without charging an individual with a crime first. Under the legislation, the Internal Revenue Service would be required to provide sufficient evidence of illegal practices and give the individual notice and provide a post-seizure hearing.
Sens. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Sherrod Brown of Ohio introduced companion legislation in the upper chamber, but it was not brought to the floor for a vote before the end of the 114th Congress. Supporters of the legislation ensured lawmakers will act quickly to pass the legislation to secure future instances of Americans being subjected to their bank accounts being emptied by the government without probable cause.
Former policy allowed the agency to seize individuals and small businesses’ assets if it suspected they were guilty of structuring — a practice associated with criminal activity, in which cash deposits are regularly made under the $10,000 to avoid banking reporting requirements.
According to Roskam, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Tax Policy chairman, there was “rampant abuse” of the forfeiture program by the IRS and Department of Justice.
“The IRS and DOJ abused their authority and took money from people who did nothing wrong,” he said in a statement. “With today’s legislation, we’re making sure they can never do it again. With the support of so many lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, we can finally put this ugly chapter to rest.”
Crowley, the ranking member of the subcommittee, concurred, assuring Congress is committed to addressing the issue.
“Civil asset forfeiture may have begun as a tool to combat criminal activity, but it has morphed into a complex process that unfairly entangles innocent individuals,” he said. “There is no question that the laws are deeply flawed and the process was riddled with abuse.”
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