Franklin County may be getting a county municipal court, even though numerous bills authorizing commissioners to establish one have failed in recent years.
During this year’s legislative session, House Bill 1211, sponsored by Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, went nowhere.
The bill would have authorized Franklin County “to prosecute and punish violations of its county orders in the circuit court or in a county municipal court if the creation of a county municipal court is approved by an order of the county commission.”
An amendment to another House bill, HB 1171, which changes the age in which juvenile courts have jurisdiction over children in traffic cases, gave the county just that authority, however.
The amendment was offered by Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington.
John Griesheimer, Franklin County presiding commissioner and a former state senator, said a county municipal court is a necessity.
Griesheimer said he first started pushing for a municipal court for the county while he was still serving in the Missouri Senate.
“Certainly we’re happy it passed,” he said. “The circuit court judges don’t like dealing with these issues. It ties up the docket.”
The bill could still be vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon. If the bill is signed, or at least not vetoed, by July 14, it will go into effect Aug. 28, Griesheimer said.
“It truly is a local control issue. There’s some issues — parking issues, planning and zoning, septic issues and so forth — those are issues we feel would be best handled by a municipal court,” he said. “It’s time we join the 21st Century and deal with our own issues.”
If the bill becomes law, the county commission would have to pass an order establishing the court and appointing the first judge, who would serve a four-year term. After the initial term, the position would be elected like other county elected offices.
“We’ve got to figure out the particulars … but it is certainly something we feel needs to happen,” Griesheimer said.
County Counselor Mark Vincent said he first joined the push after hearing complaints from county deputies.
“The county has its own (codes and ordinances), but there’s no way to enforce them,” Vincent said.
He said often the only way for the county to force someone to act on a zoning violation or other code issue is for the county to get involved in a civil case, exposing itself to liability.
Those codes include parking and littering ordinances, building code violations, nuisance code violations and more.
“These cases also aren’t as high priority as a meth case or a DWI, but they’re still important to the county. How else can we do all this stuff and restore local control, without impacting anyone else?”
If the commission passes an ordinance, the court would likely be established this fall, Vincent said.
Impact on Schools?
“The question is how it would impact the financials. Since it would deal primarily with cases that normally aren’t handled now, it wouldn’t have a major impact on school funding,” he said, noting that the court wouldn’t handle cases currently handled by the Missouri Highway Patrol, including DWI charges.
“It’d be just like a city court, only set up for the county,” Vincent said.
Griesheimer sponsored a bill, Senate Bill 83, in the 2007 regular session.
The bill would have given the county jurisdiction over traffic violations, ordinance violations, solid waste management and animal control. Senate Education Committee members at the time blasted a provision in the bill which would have required the state to compensate school districts in the county for any loss of revenue, however.
Fines from traffic and related cases currently handled in circuit courts are sent to the state and redistributed back to school districts in the circuit through the state’s foundation formula.
Commissioner Ann Schroeder said the county’s municipal court will likely meet in the courtroom on the third floor of the historic courthouse in downtown Union.