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Lawsuit challenging new traffic fine caps in Missouri argued in Jefferson City

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

A Cole County judge is weighing a legal challenge over a new state law placing new limits on how much revenue from traffic fines local governments can use in their budgets.

Senate Bill 5, passed last year by Republican lawmakers and signed by Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, caps revenue from traffic fines at 12.5 percent for local governments in St. Louis County and 20 percent for those elsewhere in Missouri.  The new regulations for municipal courts, including not jailing someone for failure to appear in court for minor traffic violations, are not being targeted in the suit.

Attorney David Pittinsky, representing 12 municipalities in St. Louis County, argued that portions of the new law that specifically target St. Louis County are unconstitutional.

“If you are a municipality outside of St. Louis County, you are not subject to the provisions we are challenging,” he said.  “For example…if you are outside St. Louis County, you don’t have the burden of achieving police accreditation in six years, you don’t have the burden of having an annual audit in three years. You don’t have any of that.”

Normandy is the lead plaintiff in the case.  Mayor Patrick Green agreed with Pittinsky’s estimate that Senate Bill 5 will cost his city about $255,000 in revenue.

“It will force (Normandy) to cut back in services, lay off at least two to three police officers,” Green testified.  “(It will force) our streets department to lay off people that do repairs to city streets and sidewalks and also in our sanitation department.”

No other mayors testified, but Green said that all municipalities surrounding Normandy will be adversely affected by the new law.

He also said that Normandy may have to stop assisting the State Highway Patrol with enforcing traffic laws on Interstate 70.

Assistant attorney general Andy Hirth, arguing for the state, suggested that stopping local police patrols on I-70 could save the city money.

“The loss of funds that was projected by (Mayor Green) would cost them two to three officers,” Hirth said. “Well, four officers are dedicated to I-70, which they don’t have to patrol.  So it’s hard to see how there’s an increased cost here, unless (Normandy) voluntarily wants to continue to undertake obligations that the state does not put on.”

Hirth also argued that Normandy could save money by not contracting with other cities to provide police patrols. He also disagreed that Senate Bill 5 was unconstitutional because it places different requirements on local governments in St. Louis County than it does the rest of Missouri.

“It also makes sense that this law only applies to St. Louis County because it’s so large,” he said. “When you have the largest county in the state, it’s not surprising that you would place additional obligations on it, in particular, at the municipal levels, because it’s frankly too much for the county (government) to do.”

Both sides finished their arguments Friday afternoon.  Circuit Judge Jon Beetem will rule on the case later.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

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