The Missouri Senate on Tuesday gave initial approval to Senate Bill 5, legislation sponsored by Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, that would prevent municipalities from using unfair traffic ticketing practices for the sole purpose of increasing local revenue.

The Missouri Senate on Tuesday gave initial approval to Senate Bill 5, legislation sponsored by Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, that would prevent municipalities from using unfair traffic ticketing practices for the sole purpose of increasing local revenue.
“The Senate’s approval of Senate Bill 5 ... is victory for the citizens of our state, and a strong rebuke against municipalities padding their local budgets through abusive traffic ticket schemes,” said Schmitt, who led the effort to make the bill a top priority in the 2015 session in the Legislature.
“As lawmakers, we have to rein in this practice, which all too often falls on the backs of lower-income citizens. I was proud to see my Senate colleagues recognize the need for this reform and work with me on this critical piece of legislation,” the state senator said.
Schmitt says the traffic tickets also can unfairly hurt low-income residents, who might face jail time or increased fees if they don't pay fines in time. The senator said cities should not be relying on tickets for revenue and would have to make tough choices to ask voters to fund services in other ways.
SB 5 would amend the "Mack's Creek Law" — named after a notorious speed trap in Mack's Creek, a small town in Camden County. A rigid enforcement of a 45 mph speed limit on U.S. Highway 54 which runs through town brought in 85 percent of the town's revenue.
That ended in 1995 when a state law put a cap on revenue being raised by traffic violations at 45 percent. In 2009, it was lowered to 35 percent and in 2014, to 30 percent.
The new proposal, SB 5, would reduce the amount of money that could come from citations from 30 percent to 20 percent of general revenue in many cities and towns — an effort to prevent municipalities from enforcing speed traps or other fines simply to fund budgets. The bill would limit the total to 10 percent in larger cities.
An amendment to the proposal, from Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a University City Democrat, that would allow municipalities to keep fines from traffic tickets on interstates that amount to less than 5 percent of a city or town's general revenue also passed.
Under the measure, municipalities would have about two months to return excess money collected from traffic fees to the state, which would in turn put the funds toward public schools.
If the municipality fails to return the excess money, it would lose jurisdiction of traffic-related charges in its municipal court until it pays up.
The bill needs a second full Senate vote before it can move to the House.
In Doolittle, Police Chief Scott Jones said he is concerned that the lost revenue would affect the police department and its role to keep the city safe.  
"I think we would have a bigger crime problem," Jones said. "The word would get out that we can't write tickets. As well, we will have a speeding problem, and that could mean accidents would increase."
Doolittle Mayor Paul Smith said he is equally concerned. He said the town collects around $36,000 annually from fines.
"That pays our salaries," he said.
Smith added that other sources of revenue would have to be sought as the town would not be able to rely on fines so much.
"Maybe that means we raise the sales tax," he said.
In Edgar Springs, City Administrator Paula James said the effects of the bill would be “destructive” and “horrible.”
Revenue to the city is limited, James said, noting that few businesses in the town bring in low amounts of sales tax and few roads means less fuel tax revenue to fix the roads.
If the cap on revenue declines, James said she worries how the city would pay its police officers. A reduction in police could mean that county sheriff’s deputies from Rolla would have to travel down to respond to incidents in Edgar Springs, which can take up to a half-hour.
That time can mean the difference as Edgar Springs police officers respond to seizures, dog bites and other life threatening calls, James said.
If Edgar Springs can only get X amount of revenue and only fund X amount of police, and enough residents complain about speeding in Edgar Springs, County Prosecutor Brendon Fox said during a Phelps County Commission meeting with courthouse officials Jan. 29, that could mean that sheriff’s deputies will have to go spend time down there, which takes them away from other investigations they should be focusing on.
“It’s spreading limited resources,” Fox said.
James recently traveled to Jefferson City to speak with Sen. Dan Brown and Rep. Robert Ross about the issue. She also contacted Phelps County District Two Commissioner Gary Hicks, who planned to contact Schmitt.
“It would really hurt our town,” James said if the bill were to pass.
James said she does not consider Edgar Springs to be a speed trap, as there are several warning lights and signs about the reduced speed limit on Highway 63 through town. That reduction in the speed limit has led to fewer wrecks, she said.
Missouri's limits on city traffic fine revenues have rarely been enforced. The first violation was found in 2010 after an audit of Randolph, in Clay County, said Spence Jackson, a spokesman for the state auditor's office.
The Missouri Department of Revenue collects money reported by cities, towns, villages and counties beyond the cap and distributes it to schools. Since 2011, the department has received $256,000. The bulk of that has been collected in the current fiscal year, with $236,716 received so far, according to the department.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.