A new law in Missouri taking effect this week is intended to curtail overzealous law enforcement practices around the state.
Missouri law limits to 30 percent the amount of traffic fine revenue municipalities can keep. Cities or towns that receive more are required to turn it over to the state. The revenue is then applied to schools in the community.
Starting Friday, Aug. 28, the new law will lower the threshold to 12.5 percent for St. Louis County municipalities and 20 percent for other areas around the state.
According to Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration, the 90 communities in St. Louis County account for only 11 percent of the state’s population but they amassed 34 percent of all municipal court fines and fees statewide.
Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, said it is important to rein in the ongoing practice of municipalities, especially in the St. Louis area, drumming up local revenue through excessive traffic tickets.
“Government should exist to serve its citizens, not extort them,” Schmitt said in recent remarks. He added that the new law “is a big step toward ending government by speed trap and taxation by citation.”
Fine amounts will also be limited to no more than $300.
According to a fiscal note attached to the bill, the fine cap will result in the loss of about $550,000 for the city of Kansas City.
In an effort to help prevent municipalities from shielding ticket revenue from schools, the new law also provides a definition of general operating revenue.
Communities that fail to send all excess revenue to county schools could face disincorporation via a public vote.
In the wake of a federal investigation into the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., last August, a provision in the new law requires police departments to have written policies on the use of force and pursuit.
Gov. Jay Nixon said the new law will return municipal courts to their intended purpose: serving citizens and protecting the public.
“That means, under this bill, cops will stop being revenue agents and go back to being cops: investigating crimes, protecting the public and keeping dangerous criminals off the streets.”
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