The John Oliver Effect is apparently very real when it comes to certain legislative decisions, at least when it comes to raising awareness around those issues. His antics inspired a bill on net neutrality in Washington state, was cited in a ruling by a ninth circuit judge in reference to his report on U.S. territories, and he even made a mockery of the New York Yankees expensive seating arrangements. That last one isn’t really a major issue, but it’s funny to look back and see how he extends out past just his little zone on HBO.
The latest to feel the effect is a piece of legislation that was recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in California. The bill, SB 443, reforms already existing rules regarding civil forfeiture and attempts to set a precedent for federal law to follow. The bill puts forth the following checks:
Require a criminal conviction before agencies can receive equitable-sharing payments from the federal government on forfeited real estate, vehicles, boats and cash valued at under $40,000. This will mostly close the equitable-sharing loophole.
Raise the threshold to forfeit seized cash under state law, from $25,000 to $40,000.
If you remember Oliver’s segment from October 2014, the host highlighted the practice and noted that “Police have taken more than $2.5 billion in cash since 9/11 from people who were never charged with a crime.” He also used a pretty humorous Law And Order parody to get his point across.
According to the Institute for Justice, the language used in the bill is an attempt to inspire some sort of reform at a federal level. They also report that California joins 17 other states in reforming forfeiture laws, “enacting better transparency requirements to Nebraska and New Mexico outright abolishing civil forfeiture“:
“Civil forfeiture is one of the most serious assaults on due process and private property rights in America today,” said Institute for Justice Legislative Counsel Lee McGrath. “By generally requiring a criminal conviction, SB 443 would go far in curbing this abuse of power…
“For too long, local and state law enforcement agencies have exploited a loophole in forfeiture law: the federal ‘equitable sharing’ program,” McGrath explained. “Because the federal government does not require a criminal conviction and pays a greater percentage of forfeiture proceeds back to state and local law enforcement than happens under state law, California agencies have routinely participated in equitable sharing.”
Oliver doesn’t get the credit within the bill, but it’s hard to deny that he’s one of many voices that helped bring this issue back into the discussion. Reform efforts certainly ramped up since the beginning of 2015 and now we’re starting to see some of it pass through the legislature around the nation. Will federal reform be next?