Proposals would limit in how much municipalities can collect fro - KCTV5

UPDATE

Proposals would limit in how much municipalities can collect from traffic fines

Posted: Updated:
ST. LOUIS, MO (KMOV) -

Lawmakers in Missouri agree it is a time limit to how much municipalities can collect from traffic fines from 35 percent to 30 percent and the state has launched an investigation into the amount of tickets that have been handed out in some towns after receiving many complaints.

Ferguson lawmakers are now saying it's time to change the way cities collect traffic fines and believe one of the factors that caused the unrest in the Ferguson area was because many people were taken to jail for unpaid traffic tickets or not showing up to court.

“These people are living from paycheck to paycheck and we are trying to make sure they're not targeted,” said Reverend B.T Rice, who has lobbied for more limits in how much money cities can collect from traffic fines, even before Ferguson was in the national spotlight. “[This was] way before the Ferguson situation. I think because of these kinds of situations is one of the reasons why Ferguson exploded.”

However, State Senator Eric Schmitt doesn't think a five percent decrease is enough and believes it should be lowered to 10 percent. Days ago he filed Missouri Senate Bill 5 outlining that proposal.

“What this has evolved into, in addition to legitimate enforcement of the law, is a way for municipal governments to prop themselves up with revenue from traffic tickets and fines,” Schmitt said. “I think that's wrong.”

Police say traffic enforcement's focus isn't on making money. Their focus is on safety, but some lawmakers are preparing to challenge that while others propose looking at fines.

“I'm not suggesting that people don't pay them,” Rice said. “But we are looking for alternatives to make sure those fines are paid and people aren't confined for traffic tickets.”

One of the towns included in the state auditor's investigation is Mosby, MO.

"If law enforcement is their objective, they can still write as many tickets as they want. Our concern is when law enforcement isn't the objective, but revenue generating is," said Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich.

Records obtained by KCTV5 show that Mosby collected more than $123,000 in ticket fines. That's more than half of Mosby's entire approved budget for 2013-2014.

KCTV5's Eric Chaloux stopped by the Mosby Police Station to get answers. Their front door said they were open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. but, despite arriving during that time period, the door was locked. Later an officer on patrol said he would give Chaloux's card to the police chief. 

“We're keeping an eye on our stops,” said Mayor Harlin Clements to KCTV News on Wednesday morning.

Clements said he was unable to return the station's calls for comment on Tuesday due to an illness of a city staffer.

The mayor of the town of 197 in Clay County said they are down to one full-time police officer. Of their $123,426 generated from tickets, the mayor said 40 percent of their tickets were for non-moving violations.

"Too many municipalities are too reliant on traffic tickets and fines. It's time we do something about it," Schmitt said.

In Missouri Senate Bill 5, any more money individual cities and towns collect would be turned over to the state, like they are supposed to do now.

"You essentially have a lot of municipalities where this is the single biggest source of revenue in their budget," Schmitt said. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that these municipalities are being propped up by these abusive traffic ticket schemes."

The legislative sessions will begin in January.

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