Last month, Governor Jay Nixon signed Senate Bill 5, which altered Macks Creek Law and prevented it from being overturned by the Missouri Supreme Court. The law was originally intended to stop small towns and cities from using speed traps as mere revenue generators. However, the law was quickly challenged by the Missouri Municipal League, who objected to language that removed from towns their authority to operate municipal courts. The bill was consequently revised in anticipation of the appeal, and on Tuesday, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld Macks Creek Law.
To ensure that the law was upheld in court, the Missouri State Legislature removed the controversial portion regarding municipal courts. Thus, the Missouri Municipal League’s appeal was promptly dismissed. The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the MML’s complaints are now “moot.” Judge Paul C. Wilson, writing the opinion for the court, noted that nothing remained of the League’s “substantive constitutional claims.”
Macks Creek law forbids any municipality to raise greater than three-tenths of its yearly revenue from fines relating to speed violations. Under the law, if towns or cities exceed that 30% ceiling, then any excess money raised must be sent on to the Missouri state government for use in educational funding. In its latest form, the law targets local government corruption. While it does not any longer remove the authority of towns to operate municipal courts, it does set standards for their conduct. Municipal codes must now be available to the public online. Municipal courts must undergo a financial audit each year. Local police officers must obtain accreditation, and, finally, the state supreme court has been directed to establish guidelines for preventing conflicts of interest between municipal courts, the mayor, and local prosecutors. In the event that these rules are not being followed, citizens of so-called “speed trap towns” are encouraged to submit their complaints to the Missouri attorney general, who is then required to investigate. The attorney general then has the authority to file, in circuit court, a suit to compel compliance with the guidelines.
This may not be the end of the story. The Missouri Municipal League could, if it so wishes, initiate a new petition to challenge some other provision of Senate Bill 5. Meanwhile, on the other end, activists are trying to extend Macks Creek Law to further prevent abusive revenue generation by the police.