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De Soto sues over 2018 bill; case slowly makes its way through court

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Last year, Missouri legislators altered the requirements for specific municipalities to append properties to within city limits. The city of De Soto called the changes “unconstitutional” and filed a legal challenge. 

Nearly a year into the court battle with a long road ahead, the future of the law remains in limbo. 

The measures under scrutiny is HB 1446, passed by the General Assembly in 2018 and signed into law by former Gov. Eric Greitens. A provision within the bill required specified fire protection districts to continue service to residents annexed by a municipality and required annexation costs to be borne by the municipality.

It’s that provision, specially tailored towards a few municipalities, which spurred De Soto to challenge the alterations. 

The lawsuit

De Soto, a city with a population of roughly 6,500 people, is about 45 miles south of St. Louis in Jefferson County. The city is surrounded by the De Soto Rural Fire Protection District.

The city is challenging the constitutionality of HB 1446, alleging it would deprive it of some powers granted under a different statute and cause harm to its citizens.

“The citizens of the City of De Soto will be subject to a de facto double taxation, as they will have to pay for the unilaterally assessed taxation prescribed by the De Soto Rural Fire Protection District for the services provided to the annexed properties, while also paying for the fire protection costs associated with the City of De Soto’s fire department,” the lawsuit said. 

The city also alleged by giving the rural fire district decision power on the city’s fire protection and emergency medical services, De Soto’s right to determine the appropriate means to provide fire and emergency medical services to its citizens would be subverted. 

De Soto is seeking a temporary restraining order, preliminary injection, and permanent injunction. 

State’s response

In court filings, the state rejected the premise that the changes were unconstitutional. Not only did it deny the claims in the lawsuit, but the state also alleged the city of De Soto has no standing. 

“Plaintiffs’ pleadings contain no allegation that an annexation occurred since the enactment of the statute; therefore any harms complained of are hypothetical. Insofar as Plaintiffs cannot show any injury, they are without standing to urge the statute’s unconstitutionality,” the state’s defense said. 

Case status

Nearly one year into the lawsuit — which was filed in Cole County Circuit Court and is assigned to Judge Jon Beetem — no rulings have been made. 

In April, the city of De Soto filed a motion for summary judgment, and a hearing was initially set for Aug. 15. However, the city agreed to an extension, and at the end of July, the hearing was canceled. 

A new hearing has not been scheduled.

The lawsuit is one of four active legal challenges against legislation signed into law in 2018.