Missouri Legislature gives approval to crime funds

Friday, May 16, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- For the third time in five years, lawmakers gave final approval to legislation that would allow judges to impose fees on criminal defendants that would supplement the budgets of county sheriff's departments.

Twice before when the bill championed by Southeast Missouri lawmakers was sent to the governor it failed to become law. It was vetoed in 1999 and passage was nullified in 2001 because of a technical problem.

State Rep. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said he is confident there is nothing about this year's effort that would prevent Gov. Bob Holden from signing it into law. The measure passed 132-0 in the House of Representatives and 29-1 in the Senate.

Under the bill, counties could establish special crime reduction funds financed by fees of up to $250 paid by defendants as part of their probation. The original bill allowed fees of up to $1,000, in addition to court costs and other fines, but the amount was lowered to win passage.

"We did a lot of compromising, but we knew from the beginning people had some reservations about the bill," Mayer said.

Some lawmakers worried the high fee would allow those with financial means to purchase favorable probation conditions while poorer defendants would be precluded from doing so. The bill allows defendants to refuse to pay into the fund and requires judges to offer alternative probationary measures.

Proceeds would be earmarked for narcotics investigations, the purchase of equipment and other law enforcement expenses.

To alleviate concerns about creating a slush fund for sheriffs, a board of trustees appointed by the county commission would determine how the money is spent.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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