(AP) — Missouri lawmakers gave final approval Thursday to a bill limiting the powers and revenues of municipal courts, its first significant response to some of the concerns raised following last year’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer.
The bill headed to Gov. Jay Nixon would cap fines for minor traffic violations, set minimum standards for St. Louis County cities and regulate municipal court procedures. The House passed the bill 134-25 after the Senate approved it 31-3 the previous day.
Supporters say it is a step toward restoring trust in government and addressing the predatory revenue-generating policing practices detailed in a federal Justice Department report about Ferguson.
“It is not the full solution that is going to bring calm, it is not the solution that is going to prohibit people or prevent people from going out to the streets this summer,” said Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, whose district includes Ferguson. “But what is unfortunate – but also a gift – is that someone had to die for this Legislature to make a change.”
The 18-year-old Brown, who was black, was walking in the street when he was stopped by a white Ferguson police officer. He was fatally shot after a struggle in which the officer said Brown, who was unarmed, grabbed for the policeman’s gun. A state grand jury declined to bring charges against Officer Darren Wilson, and a federal Justice Department report also concluded Wilson acted in self-defense.
Brown’s death triggered widespread protests, as well as riots and looting in Ferguson. Some protesters said the unrest was due, in part, to longstanding frustrations with the way residents of the predominantly black St. Louis suburb have been treated by the generally white police force. Legal advocates and some St. Louis area residents have said the use of police departments to collect revenue through traffic fines and court fees has contributed to distrust and suspicion between the public and law enforcement officers.
The legislation would lower the percentage of revenue From 30 to 20 percent