Did the 2015 municipal court reforms for traffic violations go too far?
That is the subject of a great editorial by the Kansas City Star a few weeks ago talking about how too many people with traffic tickets are not paying their fines and are getting away with it. Since the state-wide municipal court reform after the Ferguson uprising, there doesn’t seem to be any punishment for not paying fines and not showing up to court.
In many communities, traffic violators have figured out that they don’t need to show up to court because the effective tools of punishment such as higher fines, warrants for not showing up to court, or suspending a person’s license is not an option.
Maximum fines were lowered from $500 to $225. Many cities coffers are severely depleted and are finding it difficult to impossible to enforce law violators without an adequate budget. This has also carried over to enforcement of residential nuisance ordinances that are designed to keep housing safe, particularly with abandoned properties.
For example, one person who didn’t show up to court in a town near Kansas City had been arrested four times for a $450 ticket from 2015 for driving with no insurance and driving with a suspended license. She still hasn’t paid, and likely never will.
One judge was quoted as saying, “These people just continue to drive, except they don’t drive to court.”
One state senator tried to pass a bill to put some teeth back into law enforcement. His idea was that if a citizen fails to show up for a court date, a judge could order community service, issue a civil fine or put a hold on a driver’s license.
The editorial calls for Missouri to revisit its 2015 reforms with the goal of restoring some authority to its municipal courts to better find a balance between being overbearing on constituency and effectively punishing and enforcing our traffic laws. Because as the editorial states, “As of now, they’ve been effectively defanged.”