Missouri to appeal ruling that partly voids traffic fines cap

ST. LOUIS Missouri will appeal a court ruling striking down parts of a law passed last year that limits revenue cities can raise from traffic tickets after public outcry over the effect of fines on minorities, the state’s attorney general said on Tuesday.

The law, Senate Bill 5, limits the amount of revenue collected from traffic fines by St. Louis County municipalities to 12.5 percent of their annual operating revenue, while setting a 20 percent cap for the rest of the state.

The Cole County Circuit Court rejected on Monday parts of the statute having to do with St. Louis County, saying they constitute a special law in violation of the Missouri Constitution. The 20 percent provision remains in effect.

The law was put in place in the wake of unrest in the city of Ferguson after the August 2014 shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown by a white police officer.

Budgets in Ferguson, a majority black city, and in other towns in Missouri, have relied heavily on traffic fines collected from residents.

“A municipality should not depend upon prosecuting its citizens in order to fund the cornerstone functions of government,” Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said in a statement.

The ruling will be appealed directly to the Missouri Supreme Court, according to Nanci Gonder, Koster’s spokeswoman.

State Senator Eric Schmitt, the Republican sponsor of the bill, said in a telephone interview that the measure had attracted bipartisan support and defended the different treatment for cities in St. Louis County and elsewhere in the state.

“The reasoning for singling out St. Louis County for a lower percentage in the law was because there was a higher concentration of abuse in 14 cities in St. Louis County,” Schmitt said. “There was a different level of abuse.”

Patrick Green, the mayor of Normandy, one of the dozen St. Louis County municipalities that sued over the law, said the law usurped a local response to the issue.

“There was a mad rush that was careless in its approach,” Green said.

(Reporting by Sue Britt; Editing by Karen Pierog and Fiona Ortiz)

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