Yesterday, a circuit court judge in Cole County (Jefferson City) struck down provisions of Senate Bill 5. I’ve written about Senate Bill 5 a few times before, and I believe it’s a very positive bit of legislation that will – and already has – cleaned up many of the shadiest municipal courts in the St. Louis area. But the “Municipal Court Reform” bill has come under fire since the beginning, and yesterday was the culmination of a long and well-coordinated effort to have it repealed.
The Plaintiffs in this suit, exclusively small North County municipalities who exist almost solely due to fines collected by their municipal courts, have been furious with Senate Bill 5’s requirement that municipalities in St. Louis County must cap the percentage of their general revenue collected from court fines and fees at 12.5% (whereas courts everywhere else in the state are allowed to collect up to 20% of their general revenue from municipal court fees, traffic tickets, etc.) The 12.5% St.Louis County-only restriction was unpopular with governments throughout the County, but had little practical effect in larger cities with wealthy tax bases (e.g. Chesterfield, Des Peres, Creve Coeur…) But for these tiny, relatively poorer municipalities in North County, capping their revenue at 12.5% would likely have meant their extinction within a few years.
The judge in Cole County – Judge Jon Beetem – struck down the 12.5% cap as unconstitutional in that it applies a different standard for one single county. As a result of his ruling, other key components of Senate Bill 5, such as the requirement that all St. Louis County police departments become accredited within 6 years, as well as the requirement that all municipalities in the state report their municipal court data to the state auditor’s office every year, have been declared an unfunded mandate.
This bill was one of the few bills that was actually met with strong bipartisan support, and last night, as expected, Attorney General Chris Koster announced that he would appeal this ruling. This will play out over a long period of time – check back here for updates throughout.