Unanimous Senate passes improvements to civil asset forfeiture legislation

LANSING, Mich. — Citizens’ rights would be better protected under a package of bills approved by the state Senate Wednesday, with Sen. Mike Shirkey voting in support of the legislation.

Michigan is currently one of several states that allow law enforcement to use civil asset forfeiture to lawfully seize property, sometimes even freezing bank accounts, without officially charging a person with a crime.

The devoted officers who daily serve agree that although the ability to seize property can be a useful part of investigations, it is also important to establish safeguards against the abuse of this practice.

House Bills 4499, 4500, 4503, 4504, 4505, 4506, and 4507 would increase transparency and raise the standard for seizure so that evidence must be “clear and convincing” before action is taken. These amending measures would better define the legal abilities of law enforcement agencies while protecting citizens’ rights.

In May, Shirkey hosted an event at the Capitol involving a Mackinac Center panel discussion examining the way the law is currently used. At this well-attended event, participants heard why improvements in civil asset forfeiture laws will benefit all involved, including agencies and individuals.

“Our office has been contacted often on this issue this year, and there is a lot of confusion as to what the law allows and when it might be getting abused,” said Shirkey, R-Clarklake. “We are very grateful to law enforcement individuals for their dedicated protection and service, and they agree that this is an area where there needs to be a zero level of tolerance for abuse and there should be processes in place to negate any bad actors.”

The bills will be sent to the governor, who is expected to sign them into law soon.

Shirkey alerts residents of proposed federal changes regarding venomous snake

LANSING, Mich. — The eastern massasauga rattlesnake, Michigan’s only venomous snake, could soon gain additional federal protections that would impact local lands in south-central Michigan, according to state Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering designating the snake as a “threatened species,” which would then automatically qualify it for more protections that could impact the timing of certain land management techniques such as prescribed burns and cutting. Because specific information on how the change might affect private land use is currently unknown, Shirkey said he wants to let area residents know of the potential change so they can get involved in the process.

“Most people in the area don’t realize it, but although the massasauga is still uncommon, one of its higher concentrations is right here in south-central Michigan,” said Shirkey. “While many may go their entire life and never see one of these snakes, for some people here living around lakes they may encounter them on a weekly basis over the summer. Any changes to private land management practices might affect more area people than we realize, so it’s important that we press for more definitive answers now. For example, it has been hard to even get accurate maps of what could be affected.”

The link to the proposed changes in the federal register is www.fws.gov/policy/library/2015/2015-24780.html. The agency is accepting public comments at this time, and anyone is allowed to participate. While the changes would not go into effect until September 2016, Shirkey said that interested people should educate themselves on the issue and submit comments now. Such individuals are able to send a message directly to the agency responsible for the potential change.

Comments can be submitted online by visiting www.regulations.gov. Enter docket number “FWS-R3-ES-2015-0145” into the search box and click the Search button. On the left side of the next page, under “Document Type,” check the “Proposed Rule” box. Then click “Comment Now” to deliver a comment. You can also mail comments to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R3-ES-2015-0145, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041.

“Despite being venomous, the massasauga rattler is not as dangerous as some other snakes and is in general not aggressive,” Shirkey said. “Still, it is vitally important for people to be able to protect and maintain their private property, and efforts to protect the snake should never trump our ability to properly care for our family and land. As our office gets more information from the federal government we will make sure to share it with local residents so we can all decide what we should allow and what’s truly prudent.”

People living in the 16th state Senate District (the area covering Branch, Hillsdale, and Jackson counties) are encouraged to contact Shirkey if they have encountered the massasauga on their property. He can be reached by emailing MikeShirkey@senate.mi.gov or by calling (517) 373-5932.