The legislature has sent Governor Jay Nixon (D) a bill that would further restrict how much a city can make from traffic tickets and fines.
The House and Senate say 30-percent is too great a percentage of a city’s annual revenue to come from those. They have proposed reducing that to 12.5-percent in St. Louis County and to 20-percent for the rest of the state.
St. Louis County Representative Clem Smith (D-Velda Village Hills) says that’s not treating people equally.
“Somehow the drafters, creators, or whoever had a hand to do with it think less of St. Louis County to the point where they should receive less of a percentage than everybody else in this state,” said Smith.
Smith said the bill took a shotgun approach to something that needed a narrow focus.
“This is hurting cities that you probably can’t even recite the names of that never did anything wrong,” said Smith.
House Speaker John Diehl, Junior, (R-Town and Country) said there was good reason to treat St. Louis County differently from the rest of the state.
“In one county in this state there are over 475,000 outstanding traffic warrants because cities are funding their very existence on the basis of that,” said Diehl.
Diehl said as another representative from St. Louis County, he couldn’t disagree with Smith more.
“I question whether you’re representing the entrenched municipal power structure up there, or are you representing the people who get arrested and fined and hauled into court so that the cities can fund their operations,” Diehl said to Smith.
Governor Nixon told reporters Thursday his office was involved in creating that bill. Asked whether he feels it would be equitable to have St. Louis County fall under a different percentage than the rest of the state, he said that wasn’t his idea and was something he would look at.
“As you started out you hoped that it would be a standard across the board but I’m not sure that difference is enough to stop me from looking at it,” said Nixon.
House Democrats believe that portion of the bill could become the subject of a court challenge.
The issue of courts collecting too much revenue from traffic tickets and fines began getting more attention after the unrest in Ferguson that followed the shooting of Michael Brown, Junior by a police officer in August. Smith says the bill doesn’t do anything to “fix” Ferguson.
“Some people will try to spin this and say, ‘Hey, the legislature did something to Ferguson. They fixed Ferguson.’ I think if you look at their numbers, they might be alright after this,” said Smith.
When the bill was initially passed from the Senate to the House, Diehl proposed an addition to require a number of municipal standards of the cities in St. Louis County.
“A lot of these cities have no standards, they have no governance, they have nothing that any of us would even begin to classify as good government,” said Diehl.
Those include the requirement of a balanced annual budget, a cash management and accounting system, adequate levels of insurance, and access to a complete set of ordinances.
The bill would also put a cap on fines combined with court costs for minor traffic offenses at $300, and would bar cities from leveling additional charges on someone for missing a court date.