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House Sends Traffic-Camera Legislation to Senate

Mostly the legislation involves “small, fine-tuning adjustments” and “tweaks.” The bill sponsor warned that to go much further could incite the Senate to kill the bill — or the governor to veto it. But some lawmakers are already talking about bringing the issue up again next year.

The Tennessee House of Representatives Thursday gave the green light to state-imposed restrictions on local governments’ use of traffic surveillance cameras.

The proposed restrictions came in the form of an amendment attached to a bill that would expand the services automobile clubs are able to offer to their members.

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, would place three new limitations on those governments that use traffic surveillance cameras.

First, it would limit fines for violations at a maximum of $50, it would cap fees such as late fees at a maximum of $50, and it would prevent those receiving tickets from a traffic violation captured by a traffic surveillance camera from being charged court costs unless the ticket is actually challenged in court.

The amendment would also prevent law enforcement from turning in violations captured on the cameras to the Department of Safety, insurance companies or credit agencies.

Finally, the bill as amended would prevent governments from installing new cameras on highways that are maintained using state funds unless the specific location of the camera is approved at two separate hearings by a local legislative body.

The fine and fee limits would be effective July 1, 2011, to prevent the bill from affecting the budgets of local governments. The other limitations would take effect as soon as the bill becomes law.

Some legislators, such as Rep. Frank Nicely, wanted to do more to hamper or halt the use of the cameras.

“We’re quickly becoming one nation under surveillance,” said the Republican from Strawberry Plains. “There’s 300 million Americans and about 50 million surveillance cameras, and we don’t need to go there. You can’t believe them, but we’re beginning to believe them as the truth.”

The sponsor of the overall bill, Rep. Charles Curtiss, a Sparta Democrat, called the restrictions “small, fine-tuning adjustments” and “tweaks” to current law regarding traffic surveillance cameras. To go much further could lead the Senate to killing the legislation, or the governor to veto it, he said.

As a result, several other amendments filed to limit the cameras were withdrawn at the request of Curtiss and Republican Leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol, who asked members to put off any further restrictions until next year.

The bill passed on a vote of 91-3, with the only “no” votes coming from Democrats: Reps. Kent Coleman of Murfreesboro, George Fraley of Winchester, and Mary Pruitt of Nashville. Reps. John DeBerry of Memphis and Brenda Gilmore of Nashville, also Democrats, registered themselves on the tally board as “present but not voting.”

The amended bill now goes to the Senate. It is the only traffic surveillance camera legislation to make it through either chamber of the General Assembly this year.

A comprehensive bill to regulate the cameras had been advancing through the House after Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, brought together a number of interested parties who eventually reached a compromise. The bill suffered a setback in the House when it was “placed behind the budget,” meaning it could be taken back up if there is funding for the bill after the state budget is passed. The legislation was later killed in the Senate, however, when some senators complained they were not part of the committee Harmon formed to draft the compromise legislation.

Several other bills dealing with traffic surveillance cameras were dropped after Harmon’s bill was killed.

Some legislators were already talking on the House floor Thursday about bringing the issue back up next year, though.

“Hopefully, next year we really (will) address this,” said Rep. Ulysses Jones, D-Memphis. “Our communities are not happy with this, and a lot of legislators here are not happy with this, and I think it’s very intrusive.”

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