Kansas: bill would overhaul municipal court operations, decrease local government reliance on fees/fines; shut down of municipal courts possible for noncompliance

A plan similar to one in Missouri that limits how much a local government can rely on court fees/fines is on the agenda in Kansas. SB 403, set for a hearing next week, prohibits municipal governments from receiving more than 10% of their “annual general operating revenue” from municipal court traffic citations. Anything above the 10% budget threshold would have to be sent to the state general revenue fund. Moreover, 70% of all revenue from traffic infractions on a road defined as part of the “national network of highways” would have to go to the state’s highway fund.

In addition, the municipal judge would have to certify annually the courts are meeting 9 minimum standards, including

  1. defendants in custody pursuant to an initial arrest warrant issued by the municipal court are given an opportunity to be heard by the municipal judge in person, by telephone or via video conferencing as soon as practicable, and in no event more than 48 hours after the arrest for traffic infractions, or more than 72 hours after the arrest for any other ordinance violations, and if such defendant is not given that opportunity, then the defendant is released from custody;
  2. defendants in municipal custody are not held more than 24 hours without a warrant for arrest;
  3. no defendant is detained in order to coerce payment of fines and court costs;
  4. the municipal court has established procedures whereby an indigent defendant may present evidence of such defendant’s financial condition, and the municipal court takes such evidence into account in determining fines and court costs, and in establishing payment requirements;
  5. the municipal court only assesses fines and court costs as authorized by law;
  6. no additional complaint is issued for a failure to appear for a traffic violation;
  7. proceedings of the municipal court are conducted in a courtroom that is open to the public and large enough to reasonably accommodate the public, the parties and attorneys;
  8. the municipal court utilizes alternative payment plans and community service alternatives; and
  9. the municipal court has adopted an electronic payment system or a payment-by-mail system for the payment of traffic violations.

If a municipal government failed to provide the above money to the state and/or the municipal court failed to meet the standards, all municipal court functions would be suspended (cases would be shifted to the District Court) and certain state sales tax funds would be withheld.

SB 403 is set for a hearing on March 2 before the Senate Ways & Means Committee.