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Missouri legislature adds restrictions on municipalities, changes tax sharing

Rep. Robert Cornejo, R-St. Peters, sponsored the municipal governance overhaul in the House.
File photo I Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Rep. Robert Cornejo, R-St. Peters, sponsored the municipal governance overhaul in the House.

Missouri lawmakers have approved, and sent to the governor, an expansion of last year’s municipal overhaul, a bill that also includes a measure making it easier for cities to disincorporate.

This year’s bill would curb ordinance violations, such as tall weeds or housing code problems. It would also reduce the maximum traffic fine to $225. It would also create a sliding scale for non-traffic fines.

Last year’s bill, widely known as Senate Bill 5, restricted the percentage of traffic fine revenue cities could keep in their budgets. (Provisions of that bill are now in court.)

What the legislature did last year was widely hailed as the most significant public policy change since Michael Brown’s death. Rep. Robert Cornejo, R-St. Peters, said this year’s legislation seeks to ease distrust between low-income residents and their governments.

“I think there’s a general mistrust from that general interaction with police officers to once they actually get into court,” Cornejo said. “This won’t change everything. This won’t change overnight. But I think this is a good kind of second step with Senate Bill 5 being the first step … toward hopefully rebuilding that trust.”

This year’s bill also makes it easier for cities around the state to dissolve. For one thing, it lowers the amount of signatures needed to trigger a disincorporation election. And it lowers the percentage of the vote needed to dissolve a city to 50 percent from 60 percent.

And the legislation creates a disincorporation process for third class and charter cities. That means towns like Wellston and Ferguson could potentially dissolve if residents gather enough signatures and convince a majority of voters to disincorporate. (This reporter found out about this gap in the law nearly three years ago.)

“I’m very happy about it because it puts it back in the hands of the people,” said state Rep. Bob Burns, D-St. Louis County. “If they’re upset or concerned or don’t care for their municipality or city they live in, it gives them the opportunity to disincorporate.” 

State Rep. Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Black Jack, voted against Cornejo's bill.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
State Rep. Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Black Jack, voted against Cornejo's bill.

Still, the bill only received 98 votes – far less than 109 to overcome a potential veto by Gov. Jay Nixon. Some lawmakers like Rep. Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Black Jack, contend that lawmakers should focus more on how police officers are trained and held accountable. 

“They wanted to be able to say they did something ...,” Walton Gray said. “But we have to deal with the issue of bias in the police force. And I do want to say that our police officers do a good job and I think that we have to have mutual respect for one other. So it’s two-sided. But [police practicing bills that Walton Gray sponsored] dealt with cultural competency – and just having more of an indication of your biases.”

Cornejo said lawmakers have acted on some important Ferguson-related ideas. He pointed to a bill – also on the governor’s desk -- that restricts the release of body camera footage, which could provide an incentive for police departments to use the devices.

“St. Charles County has actually owned body cameras for quite some time now, but they’ve got them sitting in a closet unused because they don’t want to open up a huge can of worms and a whole bag of liability if they’re not doing it properly,” Cornejo said. “The language that has already been on the governor’s desk twice dealing with body cameras I think will help encourage to political subdivisions to start using body cameras.”

Pool tax changes head to Nixon

Also on Thursday, the House gave final approval to an alteration to St. Louis County’s sales tax distribution system.

The measure tucked in a larger local government bill would, under certain circumstances, allows “pool cities” to keep at least 50 percent of their revenues. It would likely result in more revenue for cities like Chesterfield, which has sought for years to change the parameters of the pool.

“I think it brings back some fairness to the pool,” said state Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan. “Right now, there’s a disincentive for folks that may want to expand economically. If you do that and you’re growing the tax base and you’re getting less than 50 percent? I don’t even think 50 percent is fair. I think it should be more than that. But I knew that was as far as it’s going to push the envelope.

Still, some House members were dismayed that the bill did not authorize a vote on sales tax hike in unincorporated St. Louis County for the St. Louis County Police Department. The original bill had that provision, but it was taken out after Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, expressed strong opposition to the measure.

“I felt like the deal all along was that … the compromise included both components,” said Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette. “My sense is that residents of St. Louis County want to have a chance to more adequately fund public safety in areas, especially North County. And I feel our job as the legislature is to give voters their say in that. And now they don’t have a chance.”

Schatz also handled another bill with the sales tax pool changes that passed the Senate on Thursday. He said there may be some issues with the broader local government bill that included the pool changes that went to Nixon.

Other action toward the end of the legislative session

Day 4: Beer, fantasy sports bills go to governor; photo ID to the ballot; paycheck protection dies

Beer companies could lease portable refrigerators to grocers and convenience stores, which could also sell  refillable draft beer containers, known as growlers. 

Missouri Gaming Commission will get authority to license daily fantasy sports sites such as FanDuel and DraftKings. The state would collect roughly 21.5 percent of a daily fantasy site's annual income.

People would need a photo ID and the state would help the poor get the documents needed. A person with nonphoto identification would be allowed to vote if he or signed an affidavit attesting to their identity.

Missouri House expands legal use of deadly force; Stand Your Ground now in Senate

One of the major crime bills in the legislature was amended in the House to include a controversial Stand Your Ground provision. That prompted a filibuster in the Senate, which led Sen. Bob Dixon to shelve the measure.

One step forward, one step back for anti-opioid legislation in Missouri

Early in the last week the General Assembly approved a measure that would let pharmacists sell naloxone, an opioid overdose antidote, without a prescription. But on Thursday, the Senate apparently killed a proposal that would set up a prescription drug monitoring database. Missouri is the only state that does not have one.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.