Missouri, Tennessee bills limit locals' ticket revenue stream

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 4/4/2013

Two states are considering bills to rein in overzealous law enforcement.

A bill on its way to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk is intended to discourage small cities and towns in Tennessee from relying on traffic tickets to fill local coffers. House and Senate lawmakers approved the bill by unanimous consent.

State law now requires affected communities to have proper permits to patrol on interstates.

HB505 targets small communities that have police patrol spots on interstates and issue tickets outside of city limits. Specifically, towns with 10,000 residents or less would be allowed to patrol only in city limits.

Failure to comply could result in a municipality’s loss of enforcement privileges on interstates for up to three years.

Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg, said the bill would authorize the commissioner of safety to revoke or refuse to issue authorization for the state’s smallest municipalities to enforce rules of the road on interstates within city limits if they don’t comply with the applicable rules.

“Regardless of why they would be outside of those boundaries, if they are knowingly violating the rules they are bound within, this will give the department of safety a mechanism (to use),” Spivey told House lawmakers.

Critics say the rule is overkill. They point out that the state’s commissioner of safety already can discipline departments, if necessary.

In neighboring Missouri, a bill awaiting consideration on the Senate floor is aimed at curtailing communities in the state that pad their budgets with speed trap revenue.

Sponsored by Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, the measure would revise an 18-year-old law to further limit the amount of total revenue localities can receive from traffic violation fines.

Missouri law limits to 35 percent the amount of traffic fine revenue municipalities can keep. Cities or towns that receive more are required to turn it over to the Department of Revenue.

The bill would change the rule to include counties along with the state’s smallest cities, towns or villages.

Supporters 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.

In 1995, a Missouri law was enacted limiting the amount of traffic fine revenue municipalities can keep. Cities or towns that receive more than 35 percent of their total annual revenue from fines for traffic violations are required to turn over the money to the Department of Revenue. The agency routes the revenue to the state’s schools.

Dempsey’s bill would further trim the revenue limit to 20 percent, as well as include citations issued through ticket cameras.

In addition, all highways and streets within affected jurisdictions would be included. State law now applies only to state and federal highways.

If approved by the full Senate, SB141 would move to the House for further consideration.

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

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