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Missouri House version of traffic fines fix moves forward, singles out 'suburban areas'

Photo of police car
Jason Rojas | Flickr

A Missouri House committee has passed a revised version of a bill to further limit how much revenue from traffic fines cities and towns can use in their budgets.

The "House Substitute"for Senate Bill 5 would reduce the cap from the current 30 percent statewide to 20 percent, except for St. Louis County, where it would be reduced to 15 percent. The version passed by the Senate in February would limit traffic fine revenues to 10 percent in "suburban areas" and 20 percent in rural areas.

The dueling proposals both seek to update the 1995 Macks Creek law, named for a now unincorporated community near the Lake of the Ozarks that had a reputation as a speed trap. It's also one of the top priorities for leaders seeking to address issues that led to the unrest in Ferguson.

Some St. Louis-area lawmakers, including Democrat Mike Colona, say it should be the same percentage statewide.

"My hope is that we can send a message back to the Senate that says 'Hey, we don't know why you want to penalize St. Louis County, if it's for PR, whatever," Colona said, "but unless we have a rhyme or a reason, let's keep it the same."

The Senate sponsor, Republican Eric Schmitt of Glendale, is on record as saying many of the cities and towns that have a reputation for relying too heavily on traffic fines for their budgets are located in St. Louis County.

In addition, the House version would cap fines for minor traffic violations at $200 and forbid judges to jail someone for failing to appear in court for a minor traffic offense. Despite passing 10-0, some committee members questioned whether it would make traffic laws too weak.

"The (speeding) ticket gets amended to 'illegal parking,' and the fine is $300," Colona said. "It's under 4 points, (and) the way I read the bill, you can't do a warrant if you don't pay, you can't do an FTA (Failure to Appear) if you don't pay... so again I'm trying to figure out what hammer there is to get people to pay the fines."

House Judiciary chair Kevin Austin, R-Springfield, says it's likely, but not certain, that the bill will be taken up by the full House later in the week.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport


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