Wednesday, October 4, 2023
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Judge Strikes Part of Ferguson-Inspired Law

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) - A Missouri state judge Monday struck down provisions of a Ferguson protest-inspired law that limited the amount of money St. Louis County municipalities can raise through municipal courts.

Cole County Circuit Judge Jon E. Beetem found that Senate Bill 5 is an "unconstitutional special law" and issued an injunction prohibiting Missouri from enforcing it.

A dozen St. Louis County cities and villages filed a lawsuit in November 2015 challenging the law.

At issue was a cap on the amount municipalities could raise through tickets and fines: 12.5 percent of their annual budget.

The bill was inspired by complaints that Ferguson and nearby towns targeted minorities with excessive traffic stops and fines for code violations as a way to generate revenue.

The plaintiffs called the law "an extraordinary act of overt discrimination," as the 12.5 percent cap applied only to municipalities in a county with a charter form of government and a population of more than 950,000.

The only county in Missouri that fits those criteria is St. Louis County.

Municipalities in Missouri's 113 other counties can raise up to 20 percent of their revenue through fines and tickets.

Beetem's ruling means municipalities in St. Louis County can also keep up to 20 percent.

Beetem threw out several other provisions, including requirements for all Missouri municipalities to report municipal court data to the state auditor's office every year. He also tossed a reuirement that police departments be accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies or the Missouri Police Chiefs Association within six years.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said on Tuesday that the state would appeal the ruling.

"SB 5 passed overwhelmingly with strong bipartisan support, to stop municipalities from abusing citizens through excessive ticketing practices," Koster said in a statement. "A municipality should not depend upon prosecuting its citizens in order to fund the cornerstone functions of government."

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