4/15/2015Missouri Supreme Court Considers Speed Trap Law
Missouri cities lobby state Supreme Court to protect their fundamental right to issue as many speeding tickets as they please.
Small towns throughout Missouri want their traffic ticket revenue back. Since 2013, the state has restricted the ability of municipalities to pad budgets with citation revenue. The Municipal League last week argued before the state Supreme Court about their fundamental right to generate more than thirty percent of revenue from speeding tickets.
Under the "Mack's Creek" law, cities that exceed the thirty percent cap must send excess revenue back to the state for use in school programs. Any city that fails to file regular reports and remit the money in a timely fashion has its municipal court stripped of the ability to hear traffic cases. The state attorney general has aggressively enforced this provision, which infuriates the cities.
"It's our belief that this violates the separation of power," powerful lawyer and lobbyist Jane E. Dueker said on behalf of the league. "To say that a court cannot hear something falls in line with what happened in the Weinstein case, which is basically no judge anywhere can hear this case at this time."
The Municipal League believes cities have the inalienable right to generate as much ticket revenue as they please.
"We have a legally protected interest to have a court hear them," Dueker explained. "And this is taking it away from potentially all courts. The separation of powers violation has infringed on our protectable interest to have violations heard in a court."
The league argued that cities that fail to closely monitor all spending might never know if they have the ability to issue tickets on a day to day basis.
"A municipality in good faith files its report, but if they're a dollar off, they lose jurisdiction," Dueker explained. "That's how crazy the statute is. So day-to-day they don't know if they have jurisdiction."
Ronald R. Holliger, senior counsel for the state attorney general, dismissed Dueker's hypoteticals as pure speculation. He insisted the Municipal League lacked standing to bring the suit.
Last year, the group Better Together St. Louis produced a report arguing that the Mack's Creek law does not go far enough to stop the abuse of law enforcement for the purpose of revenue generation (view report).