The real work for legislators who want to reform Missouri’s municipal courts begins tomorrow.
A bill that would further limit how much operating revenue cities, towns, villages, or counties can get from traffic fines will be heard by a the state Senate committee on jobs, economic development and local government.
Committee chairman Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale) sponsors that bill. He says the current law, which allows a municipality to generate up to 30-percent of its operating revenue through traffic fines, isn’t tight enough.
“30-percent’s too high. You’ve seen these abuses in municipalities. It’s propping up bloated government,” Schmitt told Missourinet. He’s proposing lowering that limit to 10-percent.
He said the way the current system is working is a “real injustice.”
“We have modern-day debtor prisons. You have people going to jail for a traffic ticket fine that they didn’t pay for. Life happens, they missed a court date, a bench warrant’s issued and they’re in prison,” said Schmitt.
The issue has been identified as one that should be addressed for its impact on minorities and the poor, particularly by demonstrators in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting.
“It’s creating a breakdown in trust between people in their government and people in the court system. We ought to care about that because the courts are supposed to be there to protect people’s constitutional rights,” said Schmitt. “You’ve got in St. Louis County again, 40-percent of those municipal courts weren’t allowing kids in the courtroom. People having to make a decision between paying a fine or paying a babysitter has created a real issue.”
A month ago, Attorney General Chris Koster filed a state lawsuit against 13 St. Louis County municipalities for alleged violations against that 30-percent cap or the reporting requirements that go along with it. Any amount collected beyond 30-percent is supposed to go to the state to use on education.
His legislation is SB-5.