Utah Senate advances bill to quell 'policing for profit'

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 3/3/2016

Concern about overzealous ticket writing in one Utah small town continues to spur action at the statehouse.

The Senate voted 23-4 to advance a bill from Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, to limit how much revenue that department can keep from traffic citations. The bill, SB100, now heads to the House.

The legislative effort stems from concern about ticketing practices in one northeastern Utah community.

According to Senate testimony, police in the town of Mantua in Box Elder County wrote more than 2,000 traffic tickets in fiscal year 2015. About $250,000 collected in speeding fines accounted for 39 percent of the town’s annual revenue.

The town of about 750 people sits along Highway 89-91 south of Logan. The roadway is posted at 60 mph.

Hillyard said on the Senate floor he has heard complaints from people for five to 10 years about policing practices in Mantua.

“We should not have policing for profit, and this is what that clearly is,” Hillyard said. “You need to remove any incentive, either directly or indirectly, by capping the amount of money that goes to the city.”

To address concerns about ticketing practices the bill would cap at 25 percent the amount of annual revenue cities can keep from traffic citations. Anything above that amount would be sent to the capitol for deposit into the state’s General Fund.

Similar ticket-writing thresholds are set in states that include Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma and Virginia.

The cap sought in Hillyard’s bill would affect Mantua and two other municipalities in the state.

Mantua Mayor and Police Chief Mike Johnson spoke at a recent hearing in defense of his department. He said patrols on the highway are about traffic safety.

“I think we’re sending a message that we’re getting people to slow down,” Johnson said.

Hillyard said he hears from people with the Utah Highway Patrol that complain about the policing practices in Mantua. He added that none of the town’s residents were ticketed for speeding, not even along 25 mph-posted streets.

“There is a lot of angst and concern among Utah citizens about how they have been treated through that roadway.”

Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, spoke in opposition to the bill. He expressed concern about the state telling towns how they should police, and spend their money.

“This is Big Brother like I have never seen it,” Jenkins said. “This is just not right.”

The bill is in the House Transportation Committee. It is scheduled to get a hearing on Friday, March 4.

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

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