St. Louis to ease paying traffic tickets for low income residents

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) -  A top priority for the Ferguson Commission is already drawing attention from both Missouri's Attorney General and St. Louis City's Mayor. On Thursday, both leaders took action to bring change to how municipal courts handle fines for minor municipal and traffic violations.

Attorney General Chris Koster filed a lawsuit in St. Louis County Circuit Court against 13 County municipalities and villages for violating a state law that limits traffic fines to 30 percent of each town's annual revenue. Koster labeled the towns' reliance on traffic fines for operating revenue as "predatory practices."

Low income residents have complained to the Ferguson Commission about fines in north county communities and the use of bench warrants and warrant fees . Some report they have been locked up for multiple days for failing to find the money to pay the fines and missing court dates. The jail time has cost them jobs and forced some to miss school and even drop out of college.

Koster said, "It is not my goal to financially de-stabilize these communities, but it is our goal to bring them and all cities in this state into full compliance with state law." (The law, known as Mack's Creek law, was named after a small town near Lake of the Ozarks that set up speed traps to raise revenue.

The co-chairs of the Ferguson Commission praised Koster for working to enforce existing law. Rev. Starsky Wilson and Rich McClure said changing the area's municipal court system was second on the Commission's list of urgent actions.

St. Louis City Mayor Francis Slay announced he has directed the city's municipal judges to take into account a violator's ability to pay when determining the appropriate punishment for minor traffic and municipal offenses.

Municipal Presiding Judge Gordon Schweitzer said judges will establish a payment program if needed or order community service to pay off the fine. Slay said, " Our job is not to raise money for our revenues; it is to make sure we address public safety. A $100 fine for someone working a minimum wage job is a real burden. For them, the punishment far exceeds the severity of the crime."

Thirteen local towns could lose jurisdiction over traffic violations if they fail to comply with state law. The communities include the Village of Bellerive Acres, Beverly Hills City, Breckenridge Hills City, Crystal Lake Park City, Hillsdale Village, Mackenzie Village, Moline Acres City, Normandy City, Pagedale City, Pasadena Park City, Uplands Park Village, Velda Village Hills and Vinita Terrace Village.

The St. Louis County court case number is 14SL-CC04310.

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