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Parts of 2015's municipal overhaul that differ for St. Louis County before state Supreme Court

The Missouri Supreme Court building in Jefferson City, Mo.
(via Flickr/david_shane)
The Missouri Supreme Court building in Jefferson City, Mo.

The Missouri Supreme Court is weighing a challenge to a law that has changed rules for municipal courts, in particular banning judges from sending someone to jail for failure to pay a traffic fine.

It also lowered the amount of revenue local governments can get from traffic citations; it capped those revenues at 12.5 percent in St. Louis County and at 20 percent across the rest of Missouri.

That provision in the law (which was known as Senate Bill 5 as it went through the legislature) was what sparked a lawsuit by Normandy and 11 other municipalities. In March, Cole County Judge Jon Beetem tossed out portions of the new law, including the new limits on traffic fine revenues. The state's appeal was heard by the high court Wednesday.

Attorney David Pittinsky represents the 12 local governments suing over the traffic fine language.

"I don't think there's any debate about whether (lawmakers) singled out the municipalities in St. Louis County. ... That's why they set the bar at charter form of government, and 950,000 inhabitants, because they were singling them out," he said. "There's no dispute that they were treating them differently from all of the other 113 counties and their municipalities therein."

Pittinsky said Senate Bill 5 also put requirements on local governments in St. Louis County that weren't placed on any other entities in Missouri.

"They required them to have police accreditation for their police force; only them."

Andrew Hirth with the state attorney general's office defended the different requirements for St. Louis County.

"That itself is not that unusual," he said. "There are, just by quick count and non-exhaustive count, there are about 12 other statutes that single out individual counties based on the same language here."

Hirth also said that there are 33 statutes still on the books that treat St. Louis County different from the rest of the state based on its 2000 U.S. Census count of 1.01 million.

"There are no other counties in the state of Missouri that are similar in size to St. Louis County," he said. "If we're looking at municipality as the relevant political subdivision, there are 90 political subdivisions in St. Louis county that this rule applies to. That is not a special law; it applies to 90 different municipalities."

The Missouri Supreme Court will rule on the case later.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.

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