July 16, 2015 – Weekly Capitol Update

NIXON SIGNS ‘LANDMARK’ MUNICIPAL COURT REFORM BILL

Gov. Jay Nixon on July 9 signed into law municipal court reform legislation that seeks to limit the ability of cash-strapped municipalities to raise revenue through excessive citations and court fees. The measure, Senate Bill 5, was prompted by municipal court and police abuses in the St. Louis area documented by the U.S. Department of Justice, news reports and local legal activists.

“This landmark legislation will return out municipal courts to their intended purpose: serving our citizens and protecting the public,” Nixon said. “That means, under this bill, cops will stop being revenue agents and go back to being cops: investigating crimes, protecting the public and keeping dangerous criminals off the streets.”

SB 5 limits combined fines and court costs for minor traffic violations to $300 per offense. It also prohibits jailing defendants for minor violations or the inability to pay fines and requires that defendants in police custody be brought before a judge in a timely manner. In addition, it prohibits courts from issuing separate charges for failure to appear in court, although arrest warrants can still be issued 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 municipalities in St. Louis County. The bill also more clearly defines what types of revenue count toward the cap. Money collected in excess of the cap 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.

 

GOVERNOR VETOES HIKING COURT FEES TO FUND PROJECTS

Gov. Jay Nixon on July 10 vetoed a pair of bills that included provisions seeking to impose special court fees in certain judicial circuits to provide money for local capital construction projects. Nixon said the measures, Senate Bill 67 and House Bill 799, contradicted the purpose of another bill he had signed into law days earlier, Senate Bill 5, restricting the practice of using court fines and fees to generate funding for government operations.

“The proliferation of excessive court fees is recasting the role of the courts into revenue generators for special projects,” Nixon said in nearly identical veto messages on both bills. “Court fees and surcharges should not be used as an alternative form of taxation. If a local government wants to raise revenue for its building projects, that question should be submitted to the voters for their approval rather than using the courts as the back-door revenue source. The increasingly common practice of looking to the courts to raise funds must stop.”

Both bills also contained numerous other provisions pertaining to the courts and judicial proceedings. SB 67 passed on votes of 31-3 in the Senate and 128-17-1 in the House of Representatives, while HB 799 won final approval on votes of 28-4 in the Senate and 139-12 in the House. A veto override requires a minimum of 109 House votes and 23 Senate votes.

 

NIXON REJECTS BARRING IMMIGRANT STUDENTS FROM A+

Gov. Jay Nixon on July 11 vetoed legislation to prohibit immigrant students who were brought to this country illegally as children from participating in Missouri’s A+ Scholarship Program. Under the A+ program, qualified Missouri high school graduates are eligible for two years of free tuition and books at a public community college.

“Senate Bill No. 224 is a harsh measure imposed unfairly on children who have done nothing wrong,” Nixon said in his veto message. “Quite to the contrary, they have done much to be admired, in their studies, for their schools, and on behalf of their communities. Rather than rewarding them for their achievements, Senate Bill No. 244 singles them out for exclusion.”

SB 224 passed on votes of 108-38 in the House of Representatives and 25-8 in the Senate. A veto override requires a minimum of 109 House votes and 23 Senate votes.

 

GOVENRNOR SPIKES BILL LIMITING LOCAL CONTROL

Gov. Jay Nixon on July 10 vetoed legislation to strip local governments and local voters of their rights to make decisions on certain local issues. House Bill 722 sought to prohibit the enactment of local ordinances regulating the use of plastic bags by retailers or from establishing local minimum wages that are higher than the state minimum wage of $7.65 an hour. In his veto message, Nixon called the bill an “abandonment of the principle of local control.”

“With its passage of House Bill No. 722, the General Assembly is telling local voters that legislators in Jefferson City – not they – know best how to address the local issues that their local communities face,” Nixon said. “I disagree. Local voters ought to have the right to decide these issues. Just as there should be an appropriate allocation of responsibilities between federal and state governments, so too should the precept of local control apply to the relationship between state and local governments. The power grab embodied by House Bill No. 722 clearly violates that principle.”

HB 722 passed on votes of 105-48 in the House of Representatives and 24-10 in the Senate. A veto override requires a minimum of 109 House votes and 23 Senate votes.

 

NIXON VETOES POLICE POWERS FOR CORPORATE SECURITY

Gov. Jay Nixon on July 10 vetoed legislation authorizing the Missouri Department of Public Safety to grant commissions to licensed corporate security officers, giving them the authority to act as peace officers, including the power to make arrests, conduct searches and seize property.

In his veto message, Nixon questioned the wisdom of granting powers traditionally reserved for law enforcement to agents of private corporations. He also expressed concern that doing so could open to door to the abuse or harassment of those who run afoul of a private company.

“The authority to arrest and seize personal property is the ultimate exercise of power in our democracy and should only be bestowed in the most narrow circumstances,” Nixon said.

The legislation, House Bill 878, passed on votes of 132-4 in the House of Representatives and 31-1 in the Senate. A veto override requires a minimum of 109 House votes and 23 Senate votes.

 

GOVERNOR REJECTS TAX EXEMPTION FOR LAUNDRIES

Gov. Jay Nixon on July 10 vetoed legislation that sought to create special state and local sales and use tax exemption for material, machinery, and energy used by commercial laundries. The measure, Senate Bill 20, would cost state and local governments a combined $4 million a year in lost revenue.

In his veto message, Nixon said the bill would overrule 25 years of Missouri Supreme Court decisions holding that commercial laundries aren’t manufacturers and, therefore, aren’t entitled to tax exemptions granted to manufacturers on the purchase of raw materials, machinery and energy used in the production process. In addition, Nixon said the bill wouldn’t merely extend the manufacturer’s tax exemption to commercial laundries but provide tax breaks that are even more lucrative.

“With this provision, the General Assembly would be privileging washing dirty clothes over manufacturing new products, giving commercial dry cleaners and laundries a better deal than Missouri manufacturers, without any clearly articulated economic justification for doing so and without requiring the creation of even a single new job,” Nixon said.

SB 20 passed on votes of 104-43 in the House of Representatives and 31-3 in the Senate. A veto override requires a minimum of 109 House votes and 23 Senate votes.

 

NIXON MAKES STATE HIGHWAYS COMMISSION APPOINTMENT

Gov. Jay Nixon on July 14 appointed Mary Nelson of St. Louis to the State Highways and Transportation Commission, the independent governing authority for the Missouri Department of Transportation. Neslon is general counsel and chief legal officer for the St. Louis Community College District and a former member of the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners.

Nelson is appointed for a partial term ending on March 1, 2017. She can begin serving immediately but must be confirmed by the Senate after it reconvenes in January in order to remain on the commission.