Missouri bills would limit locals' ticket revenue stream

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 1/8/2013

Multiple bills offered at the Missouri statehouse are intended to rein in overzealous law enforcement. They can be considered during the session that begins Wednesday, Jan. 9.

One bill is aimed at curtailing communities in the state that pad their budgets with speed trap revenue. This is the fourth time in the past decade the effort has come up in Jefferson City.

Sponsored by Rep. T.J. Berry, R-Kearney, the measure would revise an 18-year-old law to further limit the amount of total revenue a town can receive from traffic violation fines.

Similar versions died in committee during previous sessions.

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

The community of Macks Creek in Camden County once spurred state lawmakers to act on the issue. 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, a Missouri law was enacted limiting the amount of traffic fine revenue municipalities can keep. Cities or towns that receive more than 45 percent of their total annual revenue from fines for traffic violations are required to turn over any amount in excess of that 45 percent to the Department of Revenue.

HB84 would reduce the amount to 35 percent for the state’s smallest towns.

Despite the current 45-percent revenue cap, advocates say other communities are adopting practices similar to those Macks Creek practiced nearly two decades ago.

Another bill once again up for consideration is intended to discourage communities from using red-light or speed cameras as a “money grab.” Sponsored by Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, SB108 would require cities using the technology to route all fines collected to the local school district. Typically, the revenue is put into a city’s general fund.

Officials in Kansas City have said the change would make the city’s 18 camera locations no longer viable. According to a fiscal note, the state’s largest city would lose out on $4 million a year in camera revenue.

Both bills are awaiting assignment to committee.

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

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