Governor Jay Nixon has signed into law a bill that further limits how much cities can profit from traffic tickets a fines.
The bill lowers from 30-percent the amount of annual revenue a city can take in from traffic tickets and fines. Governor Nixon called for a municipal court reform bill after abuses came to light in St. Louis County municipalities that he called “predatory.”
He says he was alright with the bill lowering that cap to 12.5-percent in St. Louis County but 20-percent for the rest of the state.
“St. Louis is where the challenge began. When you have 90 municipalities, when you have 34-percent of all of the traffic fines [in the state] being paid in one county, that’s where the challenge really started,” said Nixon. “The problem over there was more challenging and that’s why the legislature and others in looking at this decided on a stronger remedy on the front end for them.”
Nixon credited the bill’s crafters.
“You had a really good group of legislators work in a bipartisan way to get this bill to my desk. Serious people that were trying to get a solution,” said Nixon.
In recent months it was learned that many municipalities were bringing in far more than 30-percent currently allowed. Nixon says this bill doesn’t just lower the limit – it has more teeth.
“I think that’s one of the areas where we worked very closely with the legislature, to make sure the Department of Revenue and other agencies have the authority to enforce this,” said Nixon. “The current law, we lowered that percentage under that old Macks Creek law and still couldn’t get significant change because it was riddled with kind of enforcement nightmares and difficulties of enforcing it. This bill is much stronger, has direct penalties, has better timelines, and I think will have dramatically more effect.”
Nixon said the bill will, “return our municipal courts to their intended purpose: serving our citizens and protecting the public … that means under this bill, cops will stop being revenue agents and go back to being cops: investigating crimes, protecting the public, and keeping dangerous criminals off the streets.”
Nixon touts the bill as adding to other efforts his office has been a part of to respond to social issues raised by last year’s events in Ferguson, though critics of the bill said it will not help answer those issues.
Other provisions of the bill cap fines on court costs for minor traffic offenses, requires courts to consider an individual’s ability to pay fines, and bars jail time for failure to pay. Courts will no longer be able to suspend drivers’ licenses for failure to appear in court or failure to pay a fine for a minor violation.
The bill also sets minimum standards for courts and directs the state Supreme Court to develop rules regarding conflict of interest for municipal prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges.
It requires additional standards for municipal governments and law enforcement in St. Louis County.