Small Missouri Towns Win Ticket Lawsuit Against State

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) – Missouri lawmakers unfairly singled out a dozen St. Louis County municipalities after the Ferguson protests with a state law limiting ticket-generated revenue, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled.

At issue was Senate Bill 5, which limited the amount of revenue the St. Louis County municipalities could raise from minor traffic offenses to 12.5 percent of their annual revenue, and required them to seek police accreditation for their police forces.

All other municipalities in Missouri counties had a cap of 20 percent and were not required to obtain police accreditation.

The cities and villages sued in November 2015, claiming the law unfairly singled them out.

The Missouri Supreme Court held in a 5-1 ruling last week that the law improperly singled out St. Louis County and its municipalities and was unconstitutional.

Plaintiffs’ attorney David Pittinsky, with Ballard Spahr, lauded the May 16 decision.

“The fact is, they’re not pariahs and they’re not second-class citizens,” Pittinsky said in a statement. “They deserve to be treated the same way all other municipalities in all the other Missouri counties are treated. The decision was a win for the rule of law. It was a great and courageous ruling by the Supreme Court, which didn’t let politics affect the decision.”

The law was approved by the Legislature on May 7, 2015, and signed by then-Gov. Jay Nixon on July 9, 2015. It 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 suing cities called the law “an extraordinary act of overt discrimination,” in that 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 such county in Missouri is St. Louis County.

The second-largest county by population is Jackson, in suburban Kansas City, with 670,000 residents. At the current rate of population growth, Jackson County will not hit 950,000 residents until 2090, according to the complaint.

“Special laws like this may be passed by the General Assembly in the future and can survive a special law challenge as long as evidence of substantial justification is offered in the trial court,” Judge Mary Russell wrote for the supreme court majority. “Because the State failed to present any evidence of substantial justification for enacting either section 67.287, in its entirety, or section 479.359.2, insofar as it creates a separate cap on counties with a charter form of government and with more than 950,000 inhabitants, they are special laws. The statutes target municipalities in one political subdivision: St. Louis County.”

Chief Judge Patricia Breckenridge and Judges Laura Denvir Stith, George W. Draper III and Zel Fischer concurred.

Special Judge Phillip M. Hess dissented.

“While I agree an apparent reason for the population range in SB 5 is to target a particular political subdivision – St. Louis County – I disagree that the only apparent reason for the population classification is to exclude all other political subdivisions,” Hess wrote. “The majority seems to hold that, because a statute currently applies to a single political subdivision, its purpose must necessarily be to exclude all other political subdivisions. No previous decision of this Court has so held with regard to broad population classifications that contain no further restriction.”

The municipal plaintiffs were Normandy, Cool Valley, Velda Village Hills, Glen Echo Park, Bel Ridge, Bel-Nor, Pagedale, Moline Acres, Uplands Park, Vinta Park, Northwoods and Wellston.

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