JEFFERSON CITY - Local governments across Missouri may be getting less money from traffic fines and court fees.
The Missouri Senate Committee on Jobs, Economic Development and Local Government heard testimony from members of the public and local governments on Wednesday on legislation that would change the amount of revenue that can come from traffic fines and court costs. The bill would reduce the threshold for the general operating revenue for cities, towns, villages or counties from thirty percent to ten percent.
Committee chairman and bill sponsor Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, said local municipalities are taking the easy way out and are taking more money from Missouri citizens than they should.
"Senate Bill 5 would help end these abusive traffic ticket schemes that are little more than ATMs for bloated big government budgets that have hit the poor especially hard," Schmitt said.
Schmitt said there are 14 municipalities in St. Louis County where the biggest source of revenue comes from traffic tickets and fines.
Committee member and co-sponsor of the bill, Senator Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, called the thirty percent cap "very alarming."
The mayor of Vinita Park, James McGee, said he opposes the bill because people need to be held accountable for their actions behind the wheel.
"It's not just about revenue, it's also about safety," McGee said. "We've had one person killed recently when someone was speeding. Being responsible needs to be a part of owning a car, and traffic fines hold you accountable."
Former St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch, gave the bill his support and said police departments are being funded incorrectly.
"I understand police departments have to be funded, but they should not be funded based on the number and type of tickets they write," Fitch said. "They should be funded by their citizens and they should be funded by their business people. And if they can't afford it, they shouldn't be in business, whether that means the municipality or whether that means the police department."
The revenues in excess of the thirty percent of the budget allowed by current Missouri law must be sent to the Department of Revenue where it is then sent to schools in the same area where the fees were collected.
Schmitt said local governments should be raising the funds differently and that it's not fair to Missouri citizens.
"We have these ongoing, in my view, constitutional, violations that are playing out in municipal courts that have become the arm that extracts more from people in a back-door way," Schmitt said. "Many municipalities have the ability to go in front of their voters and ask for the money that they are seeking that they are obtaining from speed traps, but it is much easier to go about it this way."