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Legislatively Speaking

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Calls for A Fair Deal, Requires A Fair Assessment of Resources

Lena C. Taylor

In Jordan Peele’s hit movie “Us”, many hip-hop music fans were reminded of the 1995 hit song “I Got Five on It”. Penned by the west coast rapper LUNIZ, the song has been an anthem of sorts about the need to contribute your fair share before using resources. Okay, I concede that the rapper was talking about marijuana in the song. However, the ideology behind the catchy rap hook is a universal belief….be mindful that what you take, is proportional to what you give.

Whether it has been Milwaukee County Supervisors, the Milwaukee County Executive, or the City of Milwaukee, there has been a call for a Fair Deal. Simply put, municipalities are asking for fairness in the state’s allocation of resources and the ability to generate revenue to fund essential services and goods. It’s a reasonable request. It’s also fair to ask municipalities how they are currently managing the resources that they have.

For example, nearly a million dollars in cash was seized during a drug bust in an area home this week. Milwaukee Police reported finding the stash of money and expensive jewelry as they executed their raid. Many have asked what happens to those dollars. You should know that the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 authorized the government to seize drugs and drug equipment. With the increased war on drugs, Congress included additional property that could be subject to forfeiture. Today, forfeitures include money, jewelry, vehicles, homes, property and more. This practice is known as Civil Asset Forfeiture and it is possible whether an individual suspected of wrong doing is arrested or not, and whether they are convicted or not. You can merely be suspected of illicit drug activity to be subject to a forfeiture, at the federal level. Thank you, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

That said, and regardless of the constitutionality of the laws that allow it, serious questions have been raised about how the forfeitures should be handled. In Wisconsin, law enforcement can use the proceeds. Over the years, there have been hundreds of thousands of dollars seized by county sheriff’s offices and local police departments. Yet, municipalities are struggling to fill gaps in their budget. If you compound the fact that public safety in Milwaukee, consumes nearly 47 percent of the city’s budget, there has to be a willingness to re-examine where every dollar goes. So, here is the million-dollar question, should local police departments be able to keep civil asset forfeitures to spend as they see fit? Should those dollars go into the general fund of the city?

To be clear, these are not new questions. The state legislature and even county municipalities have attempted to address these issues in the past. However, we have not done enough. Taxpayers have “five on it”, through the taxes and fees that they currently pay to support the Milwaukee Police Department. They deserve a say in what happens to those forfeitures.

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