JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The laughter coming out of the Senate lounge Friday afternoon came out of a hearing on Sen. Eric Schmitt’s two bills that follow up to last session’s municipal court reform bill.
Legislators and others at the hearing were not at the legislation, but instead took a dark mirth at the stories told by Valarie Whitner, the first witness at the hearing.
Whitner, a 17-year resident of Pagedale, described various citations she had received from her city government which included having not enough recycling in the can, the recycling can not being placed in the proper location, having chipped paint on her home, grass that had grown too tall, and having a fallen tree in her yard after a storm.
Bill Maurer, senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, went on to detail other causes for citation by the Pagedale municipality, which is located within St. Louis County.
No basketball hoops are allowed in front of homes, citizens must walk on the left side of crosswalks, drapes on their windows, matching blinds, barbecue grills are not allowed in the front yard except on national holidays, beer cannot be within 150 feet of that barbecue, and it is illegal to have two people at a BBQ regardless of where it is,
Pagedale even hands out tickets for things that are not even in the municipal code.
Whitner noted that the courthouse had become a meeting place, standing room only, since so much of the town was there. She often waited hours to get her turn before the judge.
All anyone in the chamber could do was laugh at how ridiculous they found the entire situation.
“I have never been to Pagedale,” Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, said. “I’ve been close, but never in the municipality. What you described to me sounds like the People’s Republic of Pagedale.”
However, the unfunny part of what the residents of Pagedale endured. Each citation, no matter how arbitrary or minor, cost $100 in cash, and in 2013, Pagedale made $396,000 from that revenue stream. Whitner estimated that she has spent over $3,000 on discounted tickets alone. She even took out a loan and called it “Pagedale money.”
Schmitt’s legislation, SB 572, will attempt to clamp down on those kinds of abuses.
“Last session, this committee led the effort to achieve historic reforms of our municipal courts and end the practices of taxation by citation,” Schmitt said in his testimony. “We ought to be very clear that this General Assembly is not going to accept that [behavior]… Sending out a police force to round up that revenue is wrong. We need to continue our effort to reform these abusive practices.”
SB 5, Schmitt’s related legislation last session, combatted what he called “taxation by citation,” but it only applied to traffic violations. It was passed with bipartisan support. This legislation would extend the same state regulations to any perceptibly abusive citation by municipalities
“It seems to me as we sit here today that we have created a road to reform, and some cities are looking for the easiest exit ramp,” Schmitt said.