One of the biggest newsmakers last year was the Ferguson riot. Predictions are that Ferguson could set the tone for the entire upcoming legislative session. There are already numerous bills in the system that will certainly have to be heard and dealt with but more broadly, the Ferguson narrative will likely come up in debate over nearly everything from job training to education. Senate leader Tom Dempsey said, " We won't have a Ferguson agenda, but we will have legislation that gets to some of the societal and governmental problems in Ferguson and a number of North County communities." In an attempt to get the spotlight off some of his recent monumental mess up's, Attorney General Chris Koster has filed suit against 13 St. Louis County municipalities over court fees. His suit alleges they are breaking laws concerning limits on how much money they can make and keep from traffic cases. The history on the current law goes back to the "Mack’s Creek" laws that were established to keep communities from setting up speed traps to fund all their needs. The law states that traffic court income is capped at 30% of a municipalities' general operating revenue and requires that any excess be sent to the state for education. The law does not stop municipalities from enforcing speed limits, it just requires that they keep track of the amount collected in fines and send anything over the 30% to the state. The courts are also required to send detailed information to the Auditor's office so they can track it. So what does this have to do with us, you ask? There are several bills pre-filed that seek to decrease the amount of money from traffic fines that a municipality can keep. This spells certain financial ruin for many small communities. If small towns can't use that revenue to maintain their police and fire protection services, they will have to depend on the counties for those protections. This raises the county's costs and therefore they must increase other fees and taxes to make up for it. See where I'm going with this? I will most certainly oppose changing the caps for this reason.
Other hot issues that will be on our platter this year include changes in the budget process that will force the Governor to approve or veto the budget while we are still in session, Education bills that will attempt to fix the school transfer law and provide alternatives for students in failing districts, Capital Improvement expenditures, Ethics legislation to cap or ban certain lobbyists' gifts, Health Care reforms, Tax law changes including DOR notifications to businesses, and last but not least, Highway funding which includes Toll Road proposals for I-70 that would levy automobile tolls of 20 to 30 dollars for a trip from KC to St. Louis. Something tells me that we won't have a lot of free time.
There's a lot of cold weather on the way, be careful driving. More next week, until then I am and remain in your service.