FORT VALLEY, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – A new Georgia law could change the way law enforcement officials seize cash, cars, and other property if they believe they're used in crimes. Some local officials say these changes will hurt law enforcement agencies and taxpayers across the state.
Peach County Sheriff Terry Deese says those seizures play an important role in how he runs the department.
"It's a big asset to law enforcement," Deese said. "I don't know how we would get by without it."
But a new bill could change everything. Currently, state forfeiture and seizure laws allow law enforcement to take property under $25,000 it it is connected to a crime. Then the chief officer can decide what to do with it.
"Rifles, ammunition, the equipment they [deputies] use has been purchased with money we've taken from the local drug dealers, so it doesn't put a burden on the local taxpayers," Deese said.
Under current law, there is a process to appeal the forfeiture to get your property back.
But House Bill 1 would change that. Instead, only property under $5,000 counts and the money would go to the county or state. The law enforcement agency would have no say in what to do with it.
State Representative Wendell Willard of Sandy Springs wants to make it harder for officials to take your property. In a news releases he says, "Civil forfeiture laws represent one of the most serious assaults on private property rights in the nation today. This bill will protect due process, transparency and create better accountability."
But Sheriff Deese says it will create problems.
"It would really put a burden on us. We would spend more time trying to get budget amendments than out there fighting the bad guys and locking up crooks," he said.
Deese wants the state to keep the law the way it is.
"If its not broke, then don't fix it, leave it alone and we think its working," Deese said.
Currently, the bill is just in the talking stage. It has to pass through two committees before going to the State House of Representatives.