July 9, 2015, Missouri Governor, Jay Nixon, sign into law a new bill to reform the municipal court system across the state. The law, set to go into effect on August 28, 2015, is attempting to end “predatory” practices aimed at the poor. According to reports, the municipal courts in St. Louis County alone generated more than $52 million last year.
Most municipalities with have three to six years to comply with the provisions in the new law. These provisions include limits on fines, banning of failure to appear charges for missing a court date and jail as a sentence for minor traffic offenses. Further cities will be limited in how much of their operating budget can be obtained through court fines and fees. This will be enforced by requiring the municipalities to provide annual financial reports to the state auditor. Failure to provide these reports or comply with other provisions in the new law might require the transfer of all pending cases to state court. It might also cause the municipality to lose sales tax revenue. Other consequences could be disincorporation.
Other requirements under the new law:
- City ordinance must be available to the public;
- Municipal judges must certify their courts are in compliance;
- Police departments must be accredited;
- Police departments must have written policies on use of force and pursuit; and
- The Missouri Supreme Court is required to develop rules regarding conflicts of interest in the municipal court system.