Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway on Tuesday warned that a new law that allows more people to request criminal record expungements and raise those application fees could violate the state Constitution, although the sponsor said he doubts that will happen.
A report by the auditor cautions that the 2016 law could surpass constitutional limits on lawmakers raising taxes or fees without a public vote. Legislative researchers estimated there could be as many as 617,000 expungements each year, bringing in a net of more than $146 million in additional revenue in fiscal year 2019.
Lawmakers' threshold for raising taxes and fees last fiscal year was about $94 million. Galloway said lawmakers have not topped tax and fee limits since that provision was added to the state Constitution by voters in 1996.
"Missourians amended the Constitution to protect themselves from the legislature raising their taxes and increasing fees," Galloway said in a statement. "These constitutional protections are a key reason I am reviewing the cost lawmakers' policy choices ultimately have on taxpayers."
Whether the state goes over limits depends on whether revenue projections materialize once the law is fully implemented in fiscal year 2019. It takes effect starting in January.
Sponsor Sen. Bob Dixon, a Springfield Republican, raised doubts about revenue projections. He told The Associated Press that researchers overestimated the number of people who would apply, and noted it's a voluntary program.
"I seriously doubt that this actually puts us over that limit," Dixon said.
Jefferson City Republican Rep. Jay Barnes, who ushered the legislation through the House, in an email said fiscal estimates used by Galloway were "fatally flawed."
He said the revenue projection "overestimates the number of Missourians eligible for expungement, assumes irrational behavior by those who would be eligible to expunge speeding tickets but would gain no tangible benefit from doing so, and assumes a high take-up rate with no basis in fact."
The underlying law would raise application fees for expungements from the current $100 to $250, although judges could waive fees if applicants can't afford them. It also would allow more people to apply and shorten the waiting period for doing so.
People will be able to apply to expunge two misdemeanor or ordinance violations that carry jail time and one felony. Certain felonies, such as sex offenses and dangerous felonies, will not be eligible for expungement.
Dixon said the goal of the legislation is to allow people to move forward with their lives and find work after convictions. He described it as a jobs bill.