Governor signs Missouri court reform bill in wake of Ferguson report

Missouri cities can no longer treat their citizens like ATMs, a lawmaker said Thursday as the state’s governor signed a bill capping how much money local governments can collect from traffic tickets and fines.

“For people who have lived in these communities that fear they are going to be pulled over and harassed because that city needs money, that’s going to change,” said Republican state Sen. Eric Schmitt, who sponsored the bill, told reporters.

His comments came as Gov. Jay Nixon signed what he called a “landmark” municipal court reform bill. The measure came months after a U.S. Justice Department report on Ferguson found that officials repeatedly pushed police to increase city revenue through ticketing, resulting in disproportionate targeting of African-Americans.

The federal investigation came after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson last August sparked allegations of excessive police force and bias against African-Americans.

“Many officers appear to see some residents, especially those who live in Ferguson’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods, less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue,” the probe concluded.

The law, known as Senate Bill 5, caps municipalities’ percentage of general revenue collected from traffic tickets and fines across the state. The law also requires police departments in St. Louis County to adopt specific written policies for pursuits and the use of force.

“This landmark legislation will return our municipal courts to their intended purpose, serving our citizens and protecting the public,” Nixon said. “What we want is for people to respect the courts, respect the cops, follow the rule of the law, have a better relationship with police, and move this region forward. This is a big step forward to do that.”

On Twitter before the law was signed, Schmitt explained why he’d pushed for it, describing what he called a “breakdown of trust” between people, governments and courts.

“This is a cause worth fighting for,” he said. “The stakes couldn’t be higher.”

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