Missouri bill to further limit locals’ traffic ticket revenue dies, again

| 6/3/2008

For the third straight year, an effort in the Missouri General Assembly that has died was intended to curtail communities in the state that pad their budgets with speed trap revenue.

The bill – HB1470 – was an attempt to 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. This year, the legislation advanced from a House committee only to see the regular session end without the bill coming up for consideration on the chamber floor.

Supporters said 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, about 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, HB1470 called for reducing the amount to 35 percent.

Implementation of the new cap in Jackson County – which includes Kansas City – would have been delayed until 2010. Advocates for the change said 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 said other communities are adopting practices similar to those Macks Creek practiced more than a decade ago.

Additional efforts to put more limits in place for cities will need to wait until the regular session that starts in January 2009.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Missouri in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor