Aug 20, 2015 – Weekly Capitol Update

HIGH COURT RULINGS LIMIT TRAFFIC CAMERA ORDINANCES

The Missouri Supreme Court on Aug. 18 issued three rulings severely curtailing municipal ordinances authorizing traffic enforcement cameras but leaving open the possibility that cities can craft new ordinances that pass constitutional muster. The rulings came in three separate cases involving red-light cameras in St. Louis and St. Peters and speeding cameras in Moline Acres.

Starting in 2005, many Missouri cities began adopting traffic enforcement camera ordinances. Most cities put their ordinances on hold in late 2013 after a string of Missouri Court of Appeals opinions citing various constitutional violations in such ordinances.

In an attempt to avoid various constitutional issues, most traffic camera ordinances sought to treat violations like parking tickets, with owner of the vehicle presumed to be the person who committed the violation and therefore responsible for the fine but no points assessed against the owner’s driver’s license. The court said the presumption of guilt in those ordinances required motorists to prove their innocence, unconstitutionally shifting the burden of proof from prosecutors. The court also held that the ordinances conflicted with state law, which requires points to be assessed for moving violations.

The trial judge who originally struck down St. Louis’ ordinance allowed the city to continuing issuing tickets while the case was being appealed, provided that revenue collected from fines was held in escrow. The city stopped issuing red-light camera tickets shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision and will now refund motorists $5.6 million in fine revenue collected on tickets issued since Feb. 14, 2014, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. St. Peters and Moline Acres had long ago stopped issuing tickets from traffic cameras.

With the rulings, some Missouri cities are considering reviving their traffic camera systems under the legal framework set by the court. However, with cities now required to prove that a person ticketed was the driver who committed the offense rather than merely the vehicle’s owner, it could make enforcement substantially more difficult.

 

SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS BAN ON FELONS WITH FIREARMS

The Missouri Supreme Court on Aug. 18 ruled the state law making it a crime for felons to possess firearms meets the “strict scrutiny” standard and doesn’t violate the state constitutional right to bear arms. The rulings came in two separate but similar cases involving convicted felons who argued the law violated their constitutional right to bear arms.

While the cases where pending before the high court last summer, Missouri voters ratified a constitutional amendment specifying that laws restricting gun rights are subject to strict scrutiny, among other changes. Since the men were convicted of being felons in possession of firearms prior to the change, the court said the old version of the constitutional provision applied to their cases. However, the court ruled the law nonetheless met the strict scrutiny, which is the highest standard of review in American courts.

Not addressed by the cases is whether language in last year’s constitutional amendment specifying the General Assembly retains the right to prohibit “violent felons” from possessing firearms means the existing law’s blanket ban on all felons possessing firearms unconstitutionally strips those convicted of non-violent offenses of their right to bear arms.

 

STATE BOARD BACKS TAX CREDITS FOR NEW STL STADIUM

As expected, the Missouri Development Finance Board on Aug. 18 authorized $15 million in state tax credits for the 2016 fiscal year to help finance construction of a new riverfront football stadium in downtown St. Louis. A total of $50 million in credits for the project will be sought over three years by the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority for the proposed stadium, which would replace the 20-year-old Edward Jones Dome.

St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke is seeking to relocate the team back to the Los Angeles area, where it played for nearly 50 years before moving to St. Louis in 1995, and has announced plans to build a new stadium there. However, two other National Football League teams, the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers, also want to move to LA and have put forth a competing plan for a stadium they would share. NFL officials have said they will endorse only one stadium project and the relocation of just two teams.

In the event the Rams do move, Gov. Jay Nixon and other supporters of a new St. Louis stadium are hopeful it could help lure another NFL team to the city, perhaps whichever one is left out of the LA sweepstakes. The project is estimated to cost about $1 billion, nearly $400 million of which would come from state and local taxpayers.