Libertarian wants end to governments’ ability to profit from fines
When the Colorado Legislature proposed and the governor later signed a bill limiting law enforcement’s use of civil asset forfeiture laws, police, prosecutors and even some county commissioners hit the roof.
They all said they needed the ability to keep such assets to help them fight crime.
Now, a former Libertarian Party presidential candidate who lives in Littleton wants to take that idea one step further.
Steve Kerbel, who vied to be his party’s presidential nominee last year, submitted a proposed ballot measure Thursday that would prevent any Colorado governmental entity from the state on down from keeping any money they collect from fines or penalties.
Kerbel’s thinking is that most of those fines are not intended to dissuade people from doing bad things, but as a means to enrich governments or pad their ever-shrinking budgets.
“I’m not saying that every fine is for self-enrichment, but what I am saying is that we have given the government the privilege to enforce laws, and they have abused their authority,” Kerbel said.
“The goal here is to bring forth judicious enforcement based on the real intent of the law, rather than just taking advantage of the letter of the law.”
His proposal, which if approved would be on the 2018 ballot, would not limit or do away with fines, but redirect them.
Instead of the fining agency keeping that money, it first would go to reimburse a victim for any financial losses.
If there is no victim, such as in a speeding incident, the money would go to a charity of the fine payer’s choice.
That way, the fines and penalties that various courts and governments assess could still be used as a deterrent. They just can’t be used to fund a government agency, Kerbel said.
“It’s really destroyed the entire law and order purpose and perception,” he said. “Removing that credibility from the actions of government is damaging. With this law, the deterrent remains. The fines are still payable, but the government just can’t have them.”
Kerbel said what he’s really trying to do is to remove a conflict of interest that governments have put upon themselves.
That conflict is inherent in any government agency trying to enforce a law, and then financially benefiting from it.
Sometimes, Kerbel says, a local government’s only motivation in assessing fines and penalties is as a major funding mechanism for themselves.
He points to a small town in Colorado called Mountain View, a town in the Denver metropolitan area that is only six blocks long and two blocks wide.
“It gets more than 50 percent of its revenues from traffic violations,” Kerbel said.
“It’s highway robbery. They are openly and obviously manipulating the system.”
Even though his measure still has a long way to go to qualify for the ballot, Kerbel said he’s already been approached by people in other states and even Australia about the idea.
“People are fed up with this pure abuse of authority,” Kerbel said.
“And it’s become more transparent as the years go by. As that transparency increases, people become even more fed up.”