- Associated Press - Thursday, May 7, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri lawmakers gave final approval Thursday to a bill limiting the powers and revenues of municipal courts, its first significant response to some of the concerns raised following last year’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer.

The bill headed to Gov. Jay Nixon would cap fines for minor traffic violations, set minimum standards for St. Louis County cities and regulate municipal court procedures. The House passed the bill 134-25 after the Senate approved it 31-3 the previous day.

Supporters say it is a step toward restoring trust in government and addressing the predatory revenue-generating policing practices detailed in a federal Justice Department report about Ferguson.

“It is not the full solution that is going to bring calm, it is not the solution that is going to prohibit people or prevent people from going out to the streets this summer,” said Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, whose district includes Ferguson. “But what is unfortunate - but also a gift - is that someone had to die for this Legislature to make a change.”

The 18-year-old Brown, who was black, was walking in the street when he was stopped by a white Ferguson police officer. He was fatally shot after a struggle in which the officer said Brown, who was unarmed, grabbed for the policeman’s gun. A state grand jury declined to bring charges against Officer Darren Wilson, and a federal Justice Department report also concluded Wilson acted in self-defense.

Brown’s death triggered widespread protests, as well as riots and looting in Ferguson. Some protesters said the unrest was due, in part, to longstanding frustrations with the way residents of the predominantly black St. Louis suburb have been treated by the generally white police force. Legal advocates and some St. Louis area residents have said the use of police departments to collect revenue through traffic fines and court fees has contributed to distrust and suspicion between the public and law enforcement officers.

The legislation would lower the percentage of revenue most cities can collect from traffic fines and fees from 30 percent to 20 percent.

St. Louis County cities would be subject to a lower limit of 12.5 percent and also have to meet a set of minimum standards that include a balanced budget, an annual audit and adequate insurance. The bill also would require police departments to be accredited within six years of when the bill takes effect on Aug. 28 and have written policies on the use of force by officers and the collection of crime and traffic stop data. Cities would face a vote by residents on disincorporation if it does not comply.

Some lawmakers from St. Louis County criticized the unequal treatment of cities they represent. Rep. Clem Smith, D-Velda Village Hills, said the same limits and requirements should apply to everyone and called it “blatant discrimination.”

“My residents, my constituents, the cities I represent, are penalized for something they didn’t do,” Smith said. “This is no fix to some issue in St. Louis County.”

The measure also would cap fines for minor traffic violations at $300, eliminate charges for failure to appear in court for such offenses and limit the time someone could be held before seeing a judge. It would also require municipal courts to be open to the public, offer alternative sentencing options and prohibit the use of detention to coerce payments.

Nixon has previously called on lawmakers to address problems with municipal courts and traffic revenues. He will give the bill a “fair and comprehensive review before he takes any action,” spokeswoman Channing Ansley said in a statement.

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City courts bill is SB 5

Online:

Senate: https://www.senate.mo.gov


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