Missouri Senate passes municipal court reform bill

The Missouri Senate came to a compromise this week on the amount they will allow municipals to generate from traffic ticket fines. However, a constitutional challenge is already being talked because the bill treats St. Louis County different from the rest of the state. The bill also eliminates failure to appear court fees, establishes payment plans, and limits the amount of time a person can be held after arrest with and without a warrant.

Compromise made in Municipal Court Bill
Revenue cap from tickets set at 12.5 percent for St. Louis County

The Missouri Legislature compromised this Wednesday on a bill that sets limits on how much revenue municipals can generate from traffic tickets.

The new deal worked out drops the original proposed cap to 12.5 percent, down from 15 percent, for cities in St. Louis County. The cap, originally set at 30 percent of general operating revenue statewide, calls for a new 20 percent limit for the rest of the state.

The Senate voted 31-3 to pass the bill Wednesday night. The House is expected to vote on a bill this week and send it to Gov. Jay Nixon.

The bill is a response to the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, by a white police officer last August. Because the bill treats St. Louis County different from the rest of the state, some legislators believe it may be unconstitutional and likely challenged in court.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that more than a third of the county’s 90 cities appear to receive over 12 percent of their budgets from overall court fines and fees. Since the bill alters the definition of traffic revenue and operating revenue, it is difficult to determine which cities are affected.

Failure to appear fines

The bill also prevents cities from charging failure to appear in court fines. The fines, which could run from $75 or higher, quickly racked up costs on defendants and disincentivized them from taking care of their warrants and tickets altogether.

Safety Concerns

Some argue that eliminating revenue stream from traffic ticket could result in a cutback of police presence on roads, and hence a greater number of traffic accidents and deaths.


If it is determined that a cities’ ticket revenue exceeds the cap, the bill allows the state to intercept a city’s sales tax revenue if the city refuses to turn over any excess ticket revenue. That money would go to schools in the county where the city was located. The bill calls for a question to be placed on the ballot, asking local voters if they wanted to disincorporate the city.

Openness of process

Some cities have been known for holding proceedings in secret. Under this bill municipals would be required to hold court proceedings in courtrooms open and large enough to accommodate the public and those involved in cases.

Holdover time & payment plans

Individuals arrested on a traffic warrant involving a minor violation cannot be held longer than 48 hours under this bill, while a person arrested without a warrant cannot be held for more than 24 hours. Courts would have to provide for alternative payment plans and community service sentences.

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