Senator blasts lawsuit against court reform bill

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, calls efforts to overturn a municipal court reform bill he authored "an insult to taxpayers."

The state senator behind last year's municipal court reform bill called the lawsuit seeking to overturn the law "an insult to taxpayers."

Glendale Republican Eric Schmitt told KRCG 13 on Thursday he expected a judge to rule in favor of legislation he wrote last year which limits the revenue cities can derive from traffic fines. He said arguments against the measure won't hold up in court.

"The fact that some of these cities are using taxpayer money to hire a Philadelphia lawyer to sue against the very reforms that are meant to benefit their citizenry is ridiculous," he said.

Schmitt wrote Senate Bill 5 in response to the issues raised by protesters in Ferguson. The measure forbids any city in St. Louis County from getting more than 12.5 percent of its annual revenue from traffic fines. It also requires all police departments in the county to be professionally accredited and to be audited annually. Gov. Jay Nixon signed the bill into law in July. A dozen St. Louis County towns have filed a lawsuit claiming the new law is unconstitutional. They argue Senate Bill 5 targeted one specific political entity and created an unfunded mandate, both of which are explicitly forbidden by the state constitution.

Schmitt said Missouri's laws include hundreds of provisions dealing with particular political subdivisions, and those provisions have held up under scrutiny. As for the unfunded mandate argument, he said state law doesn't require cities to provide police services, so there's no mandate.

The plaintiffs in the case also argue the new law violates separation of powers. The legislation includes a provision that can force municipal courts to turn their cases over to a circuit court if they are out of compliance. Attorneys argued only the Missouri Supreme Court has that authority. Schmitt said municipal courts are a branch of municipal governments and as such are creatures of the state.

"These are subdivisions of the state of Missouri, so when we see this level of abuse, and we hear from our constituents about it, it's appropriate for us come in and lead the effort on reform," he said.

Cole County Judge Jon Beetem has not yet issued a ruling on the SB 5 lawsuit. In the meantime, Schmitt is sponsoring a new set of legislation this year to cap how much revenue cities can derive from ordinance violations.

Related: Judge hears challenge to municipal court reform measure

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