When Wyoming police took Phil Parhamovich’s life savings at a single traffic stop, he had to wait months for the state to return it. Now, Wyoming lawmakers are looking to ban the waiver used to take it in the first place.
Known as a “release of interest in property or currency” form, the waivers allow citizens to transfer ownership of property to the state. Once signed, a citizen forfeits his right to contest the transfer later. When Parhamovich signed one of these forms at an unfortunate traffic stop in March, he gave $91,800 cash to police, but only after an officer allegedly implied that carrying such a large amount of cash was illegal. While a judge ordered the state to return the money Friday, the waivers have already drawn the gaze of state lawmakers.
Attorney Dan Alban, who represented Parhamovich, has fought civil forfeiture abuses across the country with the Institute for Justice. He claims the waivers are a way for police to circumvent cumbersome limitations on civil asset forfeiture, the widely criticized power for law enforcement to seize property without convicting – or even charging – the owner with a crime.
Five state legislators attended Parhomovich’s hearing, according to Alban. One was Rep. Charles Pelkey, the Democratic Whip and the only Wyoming lawmaker to endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primaries; another was Sen. Anthony Bouchard, a Republican and staunch defender of the Second Amendment.
Both are pushing to ban the waivers, which would make Wyoming the third state to do so, alongside Texas and Virginia.
“I have at least 15 other lawmakers who are willing to co-sponsor a bill banning them,” Pelkey told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “And if I drop the ball on this, I guarantee someone else will pick it up.”
While Bouchard has vowed to support a move from Pelkey, he argues the ban should only be the start.
“Someone is going to bring in the bill to ban the waivers, but they’re just a symptom of a larger issue in the state,” he told TheDCNF. “Our government is just not transparent in Wyoming. The Attorney General’s office isn’t looking out for the people.”
In 2015, Wyoming’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill requiring law enforcement to obtain a felony conviction before they could take a citizen’s property, but Republican Gov. Matt Mead later vetoed the bill. Bouchard claims Mead then went to great lengths to ensure his veto wasn’t overturned.
The governor did sign a weaker form of the legislation in 2016, but Bouchard argues that Mead’s AG, Peter Michael, is still putting the state’s interests over the people’s with regard to forfeiture.
Wyoming is currently one of five states that allow the governor to appoint the AG. But next session, Bouchard wants make the position beholden to direct elections, joining the vast majority of the country.
“I have room for three bills next session and that’s one of my slots,” Bouchard said. “I’m going to introduce this legislation.
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