MUNICIPAL COURT REFORM BILL TAKES EFFECT AUG. 28
A new law that seeks to reform municipal court operations in Missouri and further limit how much revenue cities can collect from court fines and fees takes effect on Aug. 28, along with most of the other bills enacted during the 2015 legislative session.
Because of legislative gridlock in the Republican-controlled General Assembly during the final week of session, most of the 117 bills, excluding budget measures, passed this year were minor pieces of legislation of limited impact. Of the handful of significant bills to win final approval, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed most of them.
One major exception is Senate Bill 5, which Nixon touted as “landmark legislation” when he signed it into law in July. The bill was the legislature’s response to municipal court and police abuses in the St. Louis area documented by the U.S. Department of Justice, news reports and local legal activists following the social unrest that resulted after a white Ferguson police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teen last August.
SB 5 limits combined fines and court costs for minor traffic violations to $300 per offense, prohibits jailing defendants for minor violations or inability to pay fines and requires defendants in police custody to be brought before a judge in a timely manner. In addition, it prohibits separate charges for failure to appear in court, although judges can still issue arrest warrants to compel court attendance.
A key provision of the bill drops the existing statutory cap on the revenue that cities can collect from traffic fines and fees from 30 percent of a city’s operating budget to 20 percent for most Missouri cities and 12.5 percent for St. Louis County municipalities. The bill also more clearly defines what types of revenue count toward the cap and specifies that excess collections must be turned over to local schools.
Other parts of the bill that apply only to St. Louis County include requiring municipalities there to adhere to certain minimum operational standards or potentially face serious consequences, including administrative takeover or disincorporation, and requiring municipal police departments to secure outside accreditation within six years, with the goal of ensuring departments meet basic professional standards. At present, only 14 of the 58 police departments operating in St. Louis County currently are accredited.
JUDGE BLOCKS NEW STATE REGULATIONS ON CAPTIVE DEER
Osage County Associate Circuit Judge Robert Schollmeyer issued a temporary injunction on Aug. 13 barring the Missouri Department of Conservation from enforcing new regulations prohibiting the importation of captive deer into the state. The action came in a case brought by owners of private hunting reserves who maintain the regulations would force them out of business.
The lawsuit marks the latest skirmish between the conservation department and operators of captive deer facilities. The department wants to prohibit the importation of deer from other states to prevent the potential spread of chronic wasting disease, which department officials fear could one day devastate the state’s wild deer herd.
In 2014, the General Assembly passed legislation that sought to preclude captive deer facilities from being subject to regulation by the conservation department, but Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed it. The Senate voted to override the veto, but the effort fell one vote short of the necessary two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives.
The judge ruled the injunction is appropriate while the court determines the legality of the new regulations since captive deer facilities would suffer “irreparable harm” by being prohibited from importing animals from other states during the upcoming hunting season. The case, Donald Hill, et al., v. Missouri Department of Conservation, is expected to go to trial later this year.