Civil asset forfeiture bill signed into law by Gov. Susana Martinez

Gov. Susana Martinez does not like the term “policing for profit,” but she still signed into law today a measure aimed at barring law enforcement from seizing money, cars or other types of property from people on civil grounds during an arrest or traffic stop on suspicion the property was connected to a crime.

The civil asset forfeiture legislation, House Bill 560, was approved unanimously by both the New Mexico House and Senate but Martinez did not act on the measure until today, her final day to sign or veto bills passed during the 60-day session.

In an executive message explaining her decision to sign the bill, Martinez said that as a former prosecutor she understands the importance of protecting constitutional rights and innocent property owners.

However, the Republican governor took issue with the term “policing for profit,” which backers of the legislation have used to describe civil asset forfeiture.

“… I must make it clear that ‘policing for profit’ is an overused, oversimplified and cynical term that, in my opinion, disrespects our law enforcement officers,” Martinez wrote, adding the catch phrase impugns the motives of police officers.

The practice of civil asset forfeiture has funneled millions of dollars and property to state and local law enforcement agencies, some of which sent letters to the governor asking her to veto the legislation.

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Martinez, whose husband is a former Dona Ana County undersheriff, wrote in her executive message that funds acquired through forfeiture have been beneficial to law enforcement efforts, adding, “We cannot allow this new law to undermine our efforts to combat crime throughout this state.”

Backers of the legislation celebrated Martinez’s decision to sign the bill, saying the new law is one of the toughest of its kind in the nation.

“This is a good day for the Bill of Rights,” said ACLU of New Mexico Executive Director Peter Simonson in a statement. “For years police could seize people’s cash, cars, and houses without even accusing anyone of a crime. Today, we have ended this unfair practice in New Mexico and replaced it with a model that is just and constitutional.”

Check back later for more bill signing updates.

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