As part of his aggressive push to reform the municipal justice system, Senator Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) introduced legislation today that would require municipalities to be more transparent in reporting penalties imposed at the local level.
As part of his aggressive push to reform the municipal justice system, Sen. Declan O’Scanlon has introduced legislation that would require municipalities to be more transparent in reporting penalties imposed at the local level. (©iStock)
“You can’t improve what you can’t measure,” said O’Scanlon. “When towns use the justice system as a means of raising revenue, they erode the public’s trust in government. Our local police and courts should not be used as ATM’s by misguided municipal officials. I’ve been vocal about my attempts to reform our municipal court system. This is another step of many that the Legislature must undertake to address the critical issues here.”
Two weeks ago, O’Scanlon introduced a package of three bills aimed at reforming several of the problems highlighted in a municipal court report issued by the State Supreme Court this summer. This bill is another piece of the package.
O’Scanlon’s intent is to centralize basic data regarding which penalties are being levied at the local level. Currently, information regarding local penalties is siloed in several areas of government.
The new bill in this legislative package would require municipalities to report the types of violations; the monetary penalty amount or range prescribed by ordinance; and the number of occurrences of each type of violation.
“As things stand now, we’d have to do a full-blown investigation to compare infractions in several towns. The State Police keep track of moving violations and criminal charges. The judiciary keeps track of how much was paid for certain offenses. Only the municipalities keep track of the ordinance violations. This isn’t transparent and it’s not an effective way to identify who the bad actors actually are.”
O’Scanlon’s bill would also hold municipalities accountable for a failure to comply with reporting. In the event that a municipality does not timely submit information to the State, the legislation creates an affirmative defense for anyone issued a ticket that they need not pay more than $25 until the Department of Community Affairs certifies that the town has become compliant.
“High School sports teams do a better job of keeping and reporting statistics for their respective leagues than municipalities do reporting to the State and their residents. We should be able to easily compare municipal efficacy rates for enforcement actions and aggregate all the information for that comparison,” O’Scanlon said.
“This information is basic and should be made readily available for both the public and policymakers. It is essential for identifying predatory municipal governments that force their police and courts to carry out injustice. No fair and transparent government should oppose the release or aggregation of this information. We have much more work to do and I am continuing to research and draft other measures necessary to address the critical–and massive–issue of municipal justice reform.” O’Scanlon concluded.