County ordinance bill moves forward

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Legislation that would expand the authority of county commissions to enact local ordinance moved a step closer to passage on Monday.

While the original Senate bill was limited to allowing counties to establish reasonable speed limits on roads that run through their jurisdiction, the House of Representatives endorsed a change that would grant county governments more sweeping powers.

The House passed the bill on a 126-4 vote. Negotiators from both chambers will have to work out the differences before final passage can take place.

Under the House version, counties could enact ordinances related to a variety of topics, including nuisance abatement, stormwater control, homeland security, economic development and parks and recreation, so long as they do not conflict with state laws.

Except for those handful of counties in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas that have charter forms of government, counties currently are greatly limited in the local laws they can enact.

The change is sought by the Missouri Association of Counties, whose president, Cape Girardeau County Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones, has testified before legislative committees in support of the change.

The House had already passed a similar measure, but the Senate has yet to take action.

State Rep. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, added another amendment to the Senate bill that could allow counties to establish special crime reduction funds to supplement the budgets of sheriff's departments.

Such funds, which are financed by fees paid by defendants in criminal cases as a term of probation, were common in many Southeast Missouri counties until the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that the counties exceeded their legal authority in establishing them.

Detractors of the amendment said such funds would allow those with financial means to purchase favorable probation conditions while poor defendants would be precluded from doing so. A defendant could be asked to pay no more than $1,000.

Mayer said the bill allows for alternative methods of fulfilling probation.

"If a defendant can't pay or refuses to pay into the fund, the judge would have to come up with some other form of probation," Mayer said.

The House rejected another amendment that would allow Missourians to pay their real estate taxes in installments. Only the portion not paid on time would have been subject to penalties and interest.

Currently counties won't accept partial payments.

Opponents feared the change would create bookkeeping problems and deprive counties of revenue from interest.

"I think we would be pre-emptying local control of local money," said state Rep. Peter Myers, R-Sikeston.

The bill is SB 199.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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