JEFFERSON CITY - Local schools would get a smaller percentage of the criminal forfeiture pie in expectation that the total pie would be bigger under a measure approved by the Senate Education Committee Tuesday.
The proposed constitutional amendment passed by the committee would change the system for appropriating money forfeited to the state by convicted criminals.
The amendment, which would require statewide voter approval to take effect, would deliver half of the forfeiture money to schools and half to police training.
For most of this century the state constitution dictated that all of the money collected in this manner went back into Missouri's criminal justice system. According to some legislators, this motivated law enforcement officials and prosecutors to focus on cases which would yield the most money.
Legislation passed several years ago sought to change that by delivering all of the money to schools.
But according to the sponsor of the resolution, Rep. Craig Hosmer, D-Springfield, that's caused police to use the federal government's forfeiture law which allows police to keep 85 percent of the proceeds. The remaining 15 percent goes to the federal government.
Other legislators say local prosecutors ignore a state law that had been adopted to restrict local police from using the federal forfeiture law.
Hosmer said law enforcement officials actually would rather go through state courts and give money to Missouri's schools, but, Hosmer added, they feel they deserve at least some of the forfeitures.
"Law enforcement gets penalized if they take these things to state court," Hosmer said. "They should get something out of what they're doing."
Few agree on what difference it will make in school money, but they do agree schools get little of the money now collected.
DeeAnn Aull, lobbyist for the Missouri Teachers Association, said her organization's members have not taken a position on the resolution because they are not sure whether it will make schools richer or poorer.
"We're being told it will mean more money for us, but we couldn't get the actual data," Aull said. "However, 50 percent of anything would be better than 100 percent of nothing, which is pretty much what schools get now."
Columbia lawyer Dan Viets testified to the committee that the resolution doesn't address the real problem - tightening and enforcing laws that require prosecutors to file forfeiture cases in state courts.
"Right now there are no teeth in these laws," Viets said. "This proposal goes back to the old system which creates a definite conflict of interest."