Missouri bill would further limit local traffic ticket revenue

| 3/31/2008

A Missouri House panel approved a bill that is intended to curtail communities in the state that pad their budgets with speed trap revenue. This is the third straight year the effort has been offered in the state.

The House Local Government Committee voted to clear the path for a measure to advance to the full House that would revise a 13-year-old law to further limit the amount of total revenue a town or city can receive from traffic violation fines.

Nearly identical versions died in committee each of the previous two sessions.

Supporters who are hopeful their fortunes have changed say the effort isn’t intended to punish local governments. They want to rein in cities that use their police departments to “pester” nonresident drivers with unreasonable ticketing.

The community of Macks Creek in Camden County has been singled out. In 1994, 75 percent of the small town’s budget reportedly came from traffic tickets.

The city’s five police officers were writing an estimated 2,900 traffic tickets, worth about $165,000 annually. The majority of those fines were handed down to nonresidents, USA Today previously reported.

In 1995, Missouri lawmakers approved legislation limiting the amount of traffic fine revenue municipalities can keep. Under that law, cities or towns that receive more than 45 percent of their total annual revenue from fines for traffic violations must turn over any amount in excess of that 45 percent to the Department of Revenue.

Sponsored by Rep. Bob Nance, R-Excelsior Springs, the measure – HB1470 – would reduce the amount to 35 percent.

Implementation of the new cap in Jackson County – which includes Kansas City – would be delayed until 2010. Advocates for the change say the county provision is intended to help one town that would be directly affected by the bill but isn’t regarded as a problem spot.

Despite the current 45-percent revenue cap, bill supporters say other communities are adopting practices similar to those Macks Creek practiced more than a decade ago.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Missouri, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor