Red-light camera repeal passes first committee
TALLAHASSEE, Feb 14, 2013 (Orlando Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A House panel narrowly passed a bill Thursday that would ban the red-light cameras cropping up across Florida, the latest round in an annual political fight between lawmakers, local governments and critics who say the cameras are a cash-cow for local governments.
The House Economic Affairs Committee voted 10-8 for HB 4011, which eliminates the authorization for cities and counties to use the cameras to collect the $158 fines on motorists caught on video blowing through intersections. The Legislature two years ago passed a bill creating the guidelines for red-light cameras after a raft of cities, including Orlando, had already installed them, and steering most of the dollars from the tickets into state coffers.
Last year, 71 cities and counties deployed red-light cameras at intersections, sending $51 million to the state's general-revenue pot and also trust funds that help pay for trauma and brain-and-spinal-cord injury centers.
Critics have made a range of arguments against the cameras over the years: that they are big-government invasions of privacy; predatory against minority communities and enhanced revenue sources for governments that fail to increase safety.
One of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, said the cameras were a cash-source that unfairly discriminated against low-income minorities. "I've worked several years in trauma units and critical care so I know what is safety. This law is strictly revenue-driven," she said.
The Miami Herald has reported that a minivan owned by Campbell's husband has been ticketed five times since 2010 for running red lights. She told the newspaper she knew nothing about four of the tickets.
Police officers, local governments, and some lawmakers on the committee who are retired first-responders, said the cameras do discourage red-light-running.
Orlando city lobbyist Kathy Russell said traffic citations had plummeted since 2010 at the city's top five intersections. Orlando, which was the first major city in Florida to install cameras, issued $9.1 million in fines over the last two years, collected $6.1 million and remitted $3.1 million to the state.
She also said Central Florida legislators have come to her to complain about getting ticketed by red-light cameras. But when they watch the video, she said, they opt not to appeal the fines.
"I've had several legislators call me about it, and I've said 'You might want to look at your video first,'" she told the committee. "Very few people appeal after that."
She declined to name the lawmakers.
But Orange County Sheriff's Office Capt. Michael Fewless told the panel his son was caught by a camera driving a vehicle in his name. After the son claimed to have not run the light, they watched the video.
"He ran it. There was no question about it," Fewless said. "Dad did not write a $158 check. Son did. But you know what I would write a $158 check if that would stop my son from running red lights, and it has. What I didn't have to do was go to a funeral."
But critics challenged the primary studies that have suggested the cameras reduce accidents, and argued there was too much money flowing into government to assume the motive was solely public safety.
"I am guilty of running red lights. I am guilty of texting while driving. But the awareness this process has created in me has changed my whole approach to dealing with all these issues," said Economic Affairs Chairman Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City. "Now I've become an advocate for it, but I don't feel we need to put a law on the books to change the people I touch every single day."
But those who voted against the bill said it was a simple matter of changing driver behavior.
"This is a public safety issue, one that is near and dear to my heart," said Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary, a retired firefighter who has cut people out of grisly intersection accidents. Clelland said he was one Central Florida lawmaker caught by the cameras and "it has affected my behavior, not just as this intersection but at intersections around the state."
Rep. Ed Hooper, a Clearwater Republican and retired firefighter, has been an outspoken critic of legislative attempts every year to ban use of the cameras.
"Every ticket hurts. This just happens to be one of the least expensive," Hooper said. "What really hurts citizens is traveling through an intersection with a green signal, when someone who doesn't obey the law T-bones you in the driver's seat and you die.
"There's a good thing that comes out of some fines and infractions."
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