Crime fund bill makes return with governor's input

Wednesday, February 4, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- After falling to a gubernatorial veto in 2003, legislation to make criminals help pay for law enforcement expenses is back this year with Gov. Bob Holden's support.

The bill, which Southeast Missouri lawmakers and sheriffs have pushed for six years, would allow counties to establish special funds to supplement local law enforcement costs. Judges could order criminal defendants who receive probation to pay as much as $275 into the fund.

Holden vetoed last year's version, saying it violated the state constitutional provision that earmarks proceeds from criminal fines for public schools.

State Rep. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, recrafted the bill with the help of David Cosgrove, the governor's chief legal counsel.

"We worked with the governor's office very closely to make it palatable to the governor," said Mayer, during a hearing Tuesday before the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee, which he chairs.

Change in terminologyThe key change is a use of different terminology. By calling a defendant's court-ordered payment "restitution" for the law enforcement costs of an offense instead of a "fee," Mayer said the current bill gets around the requirement that criminal fines go to education.

However, Randy Scherr of the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said simply renaming the payment doesn't solve the constitutional problem as the money is still generated in the same manner as previously proposed.

While many defense attorneys support the legislation as a "buy out of jail card" for their clients, Scherr said a court challenge to the measure would be assured.

Thirty-six counties, including most in Southeast Missouri, had what were then known as "crime reduction funds" until 1998, when a state judicial commission determined there was no legal or constitutional authority for their creation.

In testifying before the House committee, Cape Girardeau County Sheriff John Jordan said asking defendants to support law enforcement is sensible public policy.

During the decade Cape Girardeau County had such a fund, Jordan said the proceeds were used to support the SEMO Drug Task Force, a local safe house for abused women, crime labs and to purchase a drug dog for the Jackson Police Department, among other purposes.

The bill is HB 1183.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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