Twelve cities in St. Louis County, and the mayors of two others, have filed a lawsuit calling the municipal court reform bill passed this year unconstitutional.
Senate Bill 5 was passed with overwhelming support in the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Jay Nixon (D). It lowers the limit on the amount of cities’ annual general operating revenue that can come from fines, forfeitures, and court costs stemming from minor traffic violations from the 30-percent set by what was commonly known as the Macks Creek law. That limit was lowered to 20-percent for most of the cities in the state, but to 12.5-percent for cities in St. Louis County.
The suit calls that disparity, “an extraordinary act of overt discrimination.” The cities say the law creates a “special class of political subdivisions” defined by the wording that identifies St. Louis County. It argues that the previous Macks Creek law and its 30-percent cap for 20 years represented a “general law” that applied equally to all municipalities, and the creation of two different cap levels when a “general law” could be used is unconstitutional.
Further, the suit argues that the reduction in revenue would, “wreak havoc and devastation in the St. Louis County municipalities’ ability to provide their customary government functions and services.”
The suit also challenges what it calls “new and expensive administrative activities,” including the requirements of annual audits, compliance reports, accreditation or certification of police forces, the purchase of adequate insurance to minimize risk, and the requirement of a balanced budget. It criticizes those requirements as being unconstitutional since the state requires them but requires cities to pay for them – commonly called an “unfunded mandate.”
Senator Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale) sponsored SB 5 and calls the lawsuit, “the last gasp of a broken system that was desperate for reform.”
Schmitt told Missourinet there are dozens of laws in Missouri that deal with particular counties or particular cities.
“I think that the longstanding precedent that has been established in Missouri is that you can have laws that deal with different challenges in different parts of the state, and the legal argument that they’re making is nonsense,” said Schmitt.
As for the challenge of the standards required by SB 5, Schmitt said he thinks most people would be shocked to learn that their city doesn’t require a balanced budget or an annual audit. He challenged the position that those standards present an unfunded mandate.
“They have plenty of existing resources to deal with this, existing personnel. There is no need to expand government to comply with rational minimum standards that are in this bill,” said Schmitt.
The suit was filed today in Cole County Circuit Court. The state has not responded, but Attorney General Chris Koster said in a statement, “SB5 passed overwhelmingly with strong bipartisan support. The law seeks to stop municipalities from abusing citizens through excessive ticketing practices. My office will vigorously defend the bill against this legal challenge.”
The suit was brought by the cities of Normandy, Cool Valley, Velda Village Hills, Glen Echo Park, Bel Ridge, Bel-Noir, Pagedale, Moline Acres, Uplands Park, Vinita Park, Northwoods, and Wellston. Normandy Mayor Patrick Green and Pagedale mayor Mary Louise Carter are also plaintiffs listed as taxpayers living in their respective communities.