Job opportunity and municipal reform took center stage Saturday during a town hall discussion held by the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus. About 35 people attended the two hour meeting at Greater St. Mark Church in north St. Louis County, many submitting written questions that the eight panelists took turns answering.
One of the first audience questions asked the panelists where they stand on pending legislation to reduce the amount of money municipalities can collect from court fines and traffic tickets. The so-called Macks Creek revision originated in the Senate, but House Speaker John Diehl has said he wants to add provisions to hold municipal courts to uniform standards.
Rep. Tommie Pierson, D-St. Louis County, said the measure is “an attack on municipalities” and the legislators who support it aren’t listening to their constituents because they don’t want their municipalities dissolved.
Reps. Courtney Curtis, D-Berkeley, and Michael Butler, D-St. Louis, also spoke against the bill.
“I don’t think it will ultimately solve the problem that we’re trying to address, which is the over-enforcement of policing and the abusive practices because they’ll still be able to give out excessive tickets it’s just they won’t have a direct incentive because the money doesn’t go to them,” Curtis. said
“We can have the desired effect if we make minimum municipal requirements and do actual court reform and make these folks collaborate and understand that they can work better together. But we’re not going to change the way they do business just by affecting a small portion, or just a portion of the way they get their revenue,” Butler said.
Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, however, spoke in favor of Senate Bill 5, which has the backing of state Republicans.
“I think we should do something to reign in these predatory police departments and predatory courts that are practicing taxation by citation. And I think SB 5 is a real good vehicle for doing that,” Dogan said.
As the only Republican on the panel, Dogan often stood alone in his views, although he said his stance on economic development is an area where he and his fellow caucus members should be able to find common ground.
He pointed to his measure to allow hair braiders to operate without a cosmetology license, HB 790, as an example.
“It’s (in line) with my Republican philosophy of less government and less regulation. And it’s along the lines of what my colleagues in the black caucus want, which is economic development for their communities,” Dogan said, adding that regulation often blocks African Americans and other minorities from economic opportunity.
“We see that in terms of contracting. We see that in terms of small business job creation with our professional licensing and regulations. I think there are lots of areas where we could remove some of these regulations and make it easier for people to get good paying jobs,” Dogan explained.
Multiple caucus members spoke about the benefits of African Americans starting their own businesses as a means of earning more money, and Butler said increasing minority representation in public sector jobs would both create economic benefits and increase diversity in municipal governments.
Dogan said increasing minimum wage would decrease jobs, but the other panelists disagreed.
Curtis said the fight shouldn’t just be about increasing minimum wage, however.
“If we had a working education system that made people more equipped to go on to do things other than jobs that required a minimum wage, than the conversation wouldn’t be about that, so we’re misguided in fighting for that alone,” Curtis said.
All told, 10 of the 19 caucus members participated in the panel; Karla May, D-St. Louis, moderated and Rep. Sharon Pace, D-St. Louis County stopped by near the end of the town hall.
For more on the town hall, follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.