Red Light Camera Repealer Bill Narrowly Gets Green Light In First Committee Stop

Feb 14, 2013

A group of state lawmakers cleared a bi-partisan proposal to stop the use of red light cameras across the state. But, it was a close call. Opponents say it’s a matter of public safety, while proponents say the bill is a way to end what they call “a purely revenue-driven law.”

About two and a half years ago, former Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed a bill into law that allows local governments to install red light cameras. The aim was to encourage safe driving.

But, Democratic Representative Daphne Campbell of Miami is now trying to reverse that law.  She sponsored House Bill 4011 to block the use of red light cameras because she says too many low income families are getting targeted by local governments by putting them in less affluent neighborhoods.

“If you’re getting $200 a week, you get a $158 ticket, they take a long time to send it to you. When you receive it now, it doubled, tripled, quadrupled, they’re not working for a lot of money. And, they’re getting big tickets. And, it’s not for safety, it’s only for money revenues,” said Campbell.

“When you have a law that evidence doesn’t prove anyone runs red lights, cameras manipulated or inaccurate, you have the improperly timed yellow lights to allow cities to issue more red light tickets, this is why some call it cash registers on poles."

The fine residents receive is $158—83 of which goes to the state. Last year the state received $51 million, and local governments and camera contractors got the rest.

But, Eric Poole who represents the Florida Association of Counties disagrees with Campbell, calling this purely a public safety issue.

“When we went through our policy process, our members simply felt that this was an optional tool that counties can use to reduce red light running and hopefully save lives," said Poole.

And, so the issue about whether or not local governments are making money off of this. That was never part of our discussion. In fact, if you look at in your staff analysis, some of the reports that are coming in from the counties—and these are counties like Palm Beach that have budgets in the hundreds of millions—and they’re reporting of total revenues in 2011-2012 of $294,000.” 

And, law enforcement officers weighed in too. Mike Fewless with the Florida Sheriff’s Association says this has nothing to do with the money. In his case, he says he feels red light cameras saved the life of his son.

At the time, the son wasn’t aware he had run a red light, until both saw the video.

“Turned on the video. He ran it. There was no question about it. Dad didn’t write a $158 check, son did. And, you know what? I would write a $158 check if that would stop my son from running red lights, and it has. It’s changed his behavior," said the Captain with the Orange County Sheriff's office.

"What I didn’t have to do is I didn’t have to go to a funeral. And, I’m so happy for that. I’m so thankful this law is in place that has caused other drivers—now I can add my son that list—that have changed their behavior whenever they’ve come to an intersection.”

And, Democratic Representative Mike Clelland feels the same way. He’s seen his share of horrific accidents during his 26 years as a firefighter, and believes red light cameras are a great safety tool. He says he’s even learned from them himself:

“I think this is solely a public safety issue. And, I also was a recipient of a ticket, running one of these red lights. So, I have a personal experience in not only paying the $158. But, that it has also affected my behavior, not just at that particular intersection, but at intersections all across the state.”

But, Republican Representative Carlos Trujillo, the other sponsor of the bill, says he doesn’t buy the public safety argument. He says about 70 percent of those who appeal their tickets are presumed guilty, and he says millions more never get the chance to appeal their fines. He says that’s just unfair.

“We start demonizing the argument into it’s all about public safety. There are other ways to accomplish this. The ways is not indicting a person, and presuming them guilty forcing them to pay a fine, forcing them to prove their innocence,” said Trujillo.

Lawmakers were divided on the vote, with some Republicans siding with Democrats in voting against the bill. It narrowly cleared the House Economic Affairs Committee Thursday on a 10-8 vote. Its next stop is the Appropriations Committee. If it passes there, it will then head to the House floor. But, there is currently no Senate sponsor.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.