JEFFERSON CITY - A measure to restrict how much of a city's budget can be financed by city court fines came under attack from local officials at a hearing of the House Crime Committee Wednesday, March 16.
The bill would extend a restriction legislators passed in 2015.
That current law limits how much of a city's budget can be financed by traffic fines. The bill now before the legislature would extend the cap to all municipal violations.
Chris Krehmeyer, president of housing development project in the St. Louis County community of Pagedale, spoke in opposition of the bill. "I want places like Pagedale to be able to cite people who aren't taking care of their property."
Krehmeyer, president of Beyond Housing in Pagedale, said he would not hesitate to call for a resident in one of Beyond Housing's properties to be cited if they had sheets hanging in the windows instead of blinds or if they had barbeque pits in the front yard as opposed to the back.
Krehmeyer said he hopes for a "balance between treating people fairly and cities having the tools to keep things in check" and he hopes for "a thoughtful and diligent response" to housing violations.
Don Lograsso, a municipal judge in western Missouri also spoke against the bill. "This [bill] is not, in my opinion, about taking care of the poor who are breaking traffic laws."
Marvin MeGee, mayor of Greenwood, agreed with Lograsso. "If [this bill] was about representing constituents or creating good public policy, this would be really easy... I don't believe we're accomplishing either here."
The mayor of Pleasant Valley, David Slater, said he was disappointed that the bill sponsor did not stick around to hear the 50 or 60 people that testified against his bill. In his presentation to the committee, the bill's sponsor -- Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County -- argued cities had found ways around the budget restrictions of his 2014 bill.
"All of us gained a better understanding of the abuses that were taking place across the state." Schmitt said. "Where citizens are being used as nothing more than ATMs by governments seeking more and more revenue by way of traffic tickets and fines," he said.
"We're trying to limit a behavior that has been exhibited." Schmitt said. "All we're doing with this bill is pulling in those non-moving violations in under that cap."
But Schmitt's proposal came under harsh questioning from House committee members.Rep. Mike Colona, D- St. Louis City, said some of the fees collected in court are turned around and used to help people in the city.
"I don't know how I'm supposed to go back and tell my constituents that I support this legislation, when all they want is their neighborhoods taken care of," said Rep. Gina Mitten, D- St. Louis County, "We can fine them, we can summon them, we can cite them and they can now just ignore it."
Todd D. Wilcher, a municipal housing judge in Kansas City, said the judges in Kansas City "do not care one width about raising money [for the city]" when it comes to fining citizens. Wilcher said it is the possibility of a jail sentence that motivates citizens to resolve the issues the city has with their small violations, such as having a barbeque pit in the front yard. Wilcher said this bill takes away that incentive.
The committee did not take an immediate vote on the bill which cleared the Senate 25-6 in late January.