Push in Jefferson City to cap revenue cities and town can collect from fines

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JEFFERSON CITY, MO (KTVI) - "Stop shaking down citizens and using them like an ATM. "That's the message from Glendale Republican State Senator Eric Schmitt. Schmitt is sponsoring legislation this winter to limit the revenue from traffic tickets and code violation fines towns and cities may use for government expenditures.   Senate Bill 572 follows the success Schmitt had last year with the Senate Bill 5 to reform what he called a broken municipal court system. He and other critics worry local governments will pass new "taxation schemes" to make up for revenue lost after the legislature capped local revenues acquired from traffic ticket fines. "I think we've seen a breakdown of trust between people and their government, people and their courts and that's what this is about," Schmitt said.

He added “We’ve seen excessive ticketing. We've seen people getting tickets for having three people at a barbecue."  Supporters of the bill say it is time to stop such profiteering practices. A public hearing on SB 572 Wednesday drew a crowd of supporters. However no mayors from any targeted municipalities showed up. The law would affect the entire state, but communities in St. Louis County would be limited to a 12.5% cap while other towns across the state could collect as much as 20% of their budget from traffic ticket and violation fines.

Schmitt said it is not his intention to limit the enforcement of traffic rules and real estate standards. "This just limits the amount of money you can get from all of your municipal violations because what we've seen is an abuse.”

Fines collected in excess of the cap would be turned over to school districts.

Among those testifying Wednesday was a Pagedale resident who told senators her home had been repeatedly targeted by Pagedale city inspectors. Valerie Whitner estimated she had paid the city as much as $3000 in fines for chipped paint, tree branches that fell during a storm, a piece of paper on the lawn, and allowing her grass to grow too high in an inspector's estimation.  After a Pagedale inspector threatened to have her home demolished, she filed a federal lawsuit against the city with the help of The Institute for Justice, a not for profit legal organization.

At least a dozen mayors from North St. Louis County are also in court trying to overturn the municipal court reform bill and the 12.5% revenue cap on traffic ticket and code violation fines.