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Schmitt files municipal court reform legislation

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Republican state senator Eric Schmitt filed a bill today that would drastically reduce the revenue a city may collect through traffic fines and tickets.

Under “Macks Creek Law,” a city in Missouri may only collect 30 percent of its total revenue through traffic tickets and court fees. Schmitt’s bill would set a new ceiling at 10 percent. Schmitt said that while enforcing traffic law was important, too many cities across the state were abusing their traffic enforcement.

“There are far too many municipalities that are too reliant on traffic tickets and fines for revenue,” Schmitt said. “You’re largely talking about funding bloated local government while you’re pushing the poorest people deeper into poverty because they can’t afford to pay.”

Sen. Eric Schmitt
Sen. Eric Schmitt

Missouri lawmakers are expected to debate multiple reforms to the municipal court system in light of the unfolding unrest in Ferguson. As protestors and reporters continue to highlight the disparity between traffic stops as well as the increasing reliance on traffic fines to fund local governments, lawmakers are seeing the need to respond.

The St. Louis region, for instance, accounts for about 22 percent of the state’s population but nearly 50 percent of its traffic tickets. In smaller communities across the state, cities are actually budgeting for an increase in traffic fines, which Schmitt says is a “blatant” example of abusing the system.

“It’s a unique issue where both sides of the political spectrum see the abuser and see the injustice,” Schmitt said. “That’s usually a recipe for us to take action and change it. We should not accept that this is the way it should be.”

Courts are supposed to protect freedoms, not play a part in abusing taxpayers, Schmitt said. A lower threshold shouldn’t place a burden on city services so long as they make appropriate fiscal choices, Schmitt told The Missouri Times.

Schmitt already has lawmakers on both sides of the aisle lined up to support the measure, which is unlikely to be the only one of its kind in either chamber.

The legislation is SB5.