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Politically Speaking: Schmitt breaks down recently signed municipal courts overhaul

Sen. Eric Schmitt
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

This week, the Politically Speaking podcast team welcomes Missouri state Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, the chief sponsor of the broad court-reform bill known as Senate Bill 5.

Gov. Jay Nixon signed the bill into law last week. Among other things, it restricts the percentage of income that a municipality can collect from traffic fines and related court fees.

St. Louis County municipalities can collect no more than 12.5 percent of their income from such sources, while communities elsewhere are restricted to 20 percent. Any additional money has to be turned over to the state, which will put the money in public-school coffers.

Schmitt grew up in north St. Louis County, which he says helped give him a unique perspective into the problems facing its residents, many of whom are African-American. Schmitt contends that the local governments have been preying on their low-income residents, who could be tossed into jail for weeks if they couldn’t come up with the money to pay traffic tickets. Those residents often got slapped with more fees if they failed to appear in court.

Here’s what Schmitt had to say during the show:

  • It's possible that St. Louis County cities may merge, disincorporate or contract with other municipalities for governmental services when his proposal goes into effect.
  • He expects that some cities may contract with the St. Louis County Police Department – especially since the bill requires county municipalities to have accredited police agencies within six years. “You’ve got some cities right now that get 40 or 50 percent of their revenue from traffic tickets or fines and don’t have an accredited police department,” he said. “This bill, those two particular provisions, are going to force a lot of positive change.”
  • While some critics have questioned whether African-American-led cities will be hit the hardest from Senate Bill 5, Schmitt says those types of contentions miss the point. “My goal was trying to right some wrongs for the people that live in those communities,” he said. “When you see long lines of people waiting to get into a municipal court at 10 o’clock at night next to a pawn shop – it shocks the conscience.”
  • Schmitt says he expects a potentially close override vote in the Missouri House of so-called “right to work” legislation during veto session. But he said whether that’s enough to get the measure to the Senate for consideration remains to be seen. Schmitt, who voted for right to work during regular session, says he will vote to override if it comes to the Senate.
  • He said it may not make much of a difference if the legislature overrides a bill that bars local minimum wage increases. Even if that legislation isn't overridden, he doesn't believe courts will uphold local minimum wage increases.

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies

Follow Eric Schmitt on Twitter: @eric_schmitt

Music: “The World is Yours” by Nas

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.