Effort to further limit local traffic ticket revenue advances in Missouri

| 4/18/2006

A Missouri House panel has approved a bill intended to curtail communities that pad their budgets with speed trap revenue.

The House Local Government Committee approved a bill April 10 that would revise an 11-year old law to further limit the amount of total revenue a city receives from traffic violations.

Supporters said the bill isn’t intended to punish local governments. But they do want to rein in cities that use their police departments to “pester” nonresident drivers with unreasonable ticketing.

“These communities are earning a bad reputation for themselves,” Sen. John Cauthorn, R-Mexico, said in a written statement.

Cauthorn singled out Macks Creek in Camden County. By 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 out to nonresidents.

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 theretotal annual revenue from fines for traffic violations must turn over any traffic fine money in excess of that 45 percent to the Department of Revenue.

Cauthorn’s bill would reduce the amount to 35 percent.

Despite the current 45-percent revenue cap, Cauthorn said other communities are adopting practices similar to those Macks Creek did more than a decade ago.

The small town of Eolia in Pike County, about 70 miles northwest of St. Louis, recently was highlighted in a USA Today article on speed traps.

“The primary responsibility of law enforcement is to enforce laws and protect the public’s safety – not to generate revenue,” Cauthorn said.

Any locality that fails to send the excess revenue to the department “in a timely manner as determined by the department director” would result in the locality facing possible annual audits by the state auditor.

SB951, which the Senate already approved, has been sent to the full House for consideration. If approved, it would head back to the Senate for a final vote before moving to Gov. Matt Blunt’s desk.