JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri senators held a hearing today on a bill aimed at reducing the amount of money cities may collect through traffic tickets and court fines.
Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, is sponsoring SB 5, which makes changes to Missouri’s “Macks Creek Law.” Under Macks Creek, no municipality in Missouri may derive more than 30 percent of its annual operating revenue from traffic tickets and court fines. Schmitt’s bill would lower that cap to just 10 percent.
“We have too many municipalities that are too reliant on fines and tickets to generate revenue,” Schmitt said. “Government exists to serve its citizens, not to find new and innovative ways to fund government through speed traps and court fines.”
Schmitt likened some practices of municipalities largely in the St. Louis region to “debtors prisons,” wherein the poorest offenders cannot pay fines for a simple traffic ticket and are then thrown in jail thanks to a “failure to appear” bench warrant.
Schmitt’s bill has a wide array of support from both Democrats and Republicans. Americans for Prosperity, a representative from the Tea Party, and the ACLU of Missouri all came out to support the bill.
“You have to stop building cities and jails on the backs of the working poor,” said Sarah Rossi of the ACLU.
Schmitt’s bill does not come without opposition, though. Some members of the committee, like Sen. Jay Wasson, R-Green County, expressed concerns that small rural police departments might suffer as a result of the bill.
Several mayors from small municipalities in north St. Louis County — where 50 percent of the state’s tickets are issued to 22 percent of the population — said that a lowered cap would cripple their ability to fund municipal services.
The Missouri Municipal League joined those cities in denouncing the bill has an ineffective way to put fourth meaningful reforms.
“The vast majority of [cities] have responsible public safety departments,” said Richard Sheets, MML lobbyist. “We should be looking at the specific issues brought up today in specific places, not just setting some number, to work on issues with municipal courts.”
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.