Effort to limit locals' traffic ticket revenue dies in Missouri

| 5/19/2006

A bill intended to further curtail communities in Missouri that pad their budgets with speed trap revenue has died.

Sponsored by Sen. John Cauthorn, R-Mexico, the bill was awaiting a final vote on the House floor when the session ended May 12. The Senate approved it in March.

The measure – SB951 – sought to revise an 11-year-old law to further limit the amount of total revenue a city receives from traffic violations.

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.

“These communities are earning a bad reputation for themselves,” Cauthorn 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 down 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 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.

Cauthorn’s bill would have reduced 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.