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Traffic Revenue Limit Passes Missouri Senate

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Jason Rojas
People who report drunk drivers in Illinois this New Year's weekend could get $100 dollars through the Drunkbusters program.

(Updated 5:50 p.m., Thurs., Feb. 12)

The Missouri Senate has passed legislation to reduce the amount of revenue from traffic fines cities and towns can use in their budgets from the current 30 percent.

Senate Bill 5 would allow municipalities in urban and suburban areas to keep only 10 percent of the revenue from speeding tickets and other fines, while rural towns would be allowed up to 20 percent.  It was sponsored by state Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale.

"I'm proud of the fact that we came together, we came to a Senate position," Schmitt said.  "I believe this is a strong bill and will do a lot to move us forward to end the practice of taxation by citation."

The bill passed unanimously, 34-0, despite some concerns that it could result in reduced funding for police departments and social programs that receive revenue from traffic fines.  It now goes to the Missouri House, where a similar bill has been filed but hasn't moved forward.

Read our earlier story below:

The Missouri Senate has given first-round approval to legislation to limit even more how much money cities, towns and villages can budget from traffic fines.

The Macks Creek law, passed 20 years ago, currently caps that figure at 30 percent.  Any revenue above that amount from fines must be handed over to the Department of Revenue, which in turn gives that money to schools in the corresponding county.

That 30 percent cap would drop to 10 percent for most local governments if Senate Bill 5 becomes law.  The reduction would be phased in, starting at 20 percent on Jan. 1, 2016, then dropping to 10 percent on Jan. 1, 2017.  Other provisions in the bill:

  • DOR would seize up to 100 percent of a city or town's revenue if excess revenue from traffic fines is not turned over within 60 days;
  • St. Louis County municipalities in the sales tax pool that violate the 30 percent cap would not receive their share of revenue from the pool;
  • Cities or towns that fail to send excess traffic fine revenue to the DOR would also face a dissolution vote; that city or town would be dissolved if 60 percent of citizens vote to do so.

The sponsor, state Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, says it's designed to protect the poor from becoming ensnared in an unending cycle of citations and summons that often results in jail time.
"We are pushing the poorest among us further into poverty," Schmitt said. "The average citizen who cannot afford a lawyer is being thrown into a debtor prison, (and) we are not supposed to have those in this country."

Schmitt's proposal is one of several in the wake of the unrest last year in Ferguson, following the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by former police officer Darren Wilson.  Some community leaders and lawmakers, including state Rep. Clem Smith, D-Velda Village Hills, has said that the cycle of traffic citations and jail time has harmed efforts by African Americans to stay employed and maintain homes for their families.

Some senators, though, questioned the impact of these caps on impact police departments and programs to help the disadvantaged, primarily in St. Louis County.

"We're putting a burden on many municipalities," said state Sen. Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors.  "I counted (only) about 15 that were abusing the system.... We're punishing the rest of our municipalities that are otherwise good citizens and provide good services."

Freshman state Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Olivette, offered an amendment to exempt St. Louis County pool cities from losing revenue if they don't turn over excess revenue from traffic fines, but it was voted down on a voice vote.

An amendment was approved, though, to allow the cap to stay at 20 percent for cities, towns and villages in rural Missouri. It was sponsored by state Sen. Jay Wasson, R-Nixa.

"We don't want to (create) a situation out there where these small towns can't even afford police protection," Wasson said, "In Highlandville, Missouri, (the) police chief makes $21,000 a year; the police officers under him make $18,000 a year.  You want to talk about the poor in the community, it's probably the cops!"

Wasson continued, "If you take this money that they write tickets for and send it to the schools or somewhere else, they're going to lose their cops.  There's not a dang thing in Highlandville, Missouri, to tax, is my point...there's no sales tax there to collect, (and) the newest house might be a double-wide (trailer)."

Senate Bill 5 was approved on a voice vote, with no opposition.  It needs one more vote by the full Senate to move to the Missouri House.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.