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Bill will require municipalities to report money from fees and fines

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Legislation expected to be filed in the Alabama Senate would require municipalities to make public information about how much money they collect from fees and fines on citizens.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said he plans to file the bill this week. He began working on it last year, before Brookside, Alabama garnered national attention. John Archibald of al.com first reported how the small town’s police force in 2020 generated nearly half of the municipality’s revenue through fines and forfeitures.

Orr said he doesn’t think Brookside is the only city using traffic tickets to fund operations.

“Some cities have begun to use their court mechanisms as a funding operation, many times for their police departments, so they set up speed traps, etc., just like we saw in Brookside,” Orr told Alabama Daily News on Monday. “The bill is merely a reporting bill to shine the light on that activity.”

Kayla Bass, director of external affairs for the Alabama League of Municipalities, said the organization is reviewing the bill.

“We look forward to working with Sen. Orr to craft policy that addresses transparency and accountability, while balancing the administrative burdens for compiling such data,” Bass said.

The bill requires the Administrative Office of Courts to set up a statewide, public database where municipalities would report yearly on fines and fees collected, including from traffic stops and misdemeanor and felony arrests.

Orr in previous years has worked on bills reining in police forces’ use of civil asset forfeiture, when someone’s property is taken, and sometimes not returned, even if they’re not convicted of a crime.

“(This new bill) seems like a good step to take to require this transparency when it comes to the fees and fines that cities are collecting and whether it is disproportionate to what it should be.”

The bill requires an annual report of the collected information to be given to lawmakers and made public.

If a municipality doesn’t comply, it will be fined $500 or one-quarter of its annual collected fines, whichever is greater.

You can read the bill here.

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