Traffic Camera Enforcement Ban Advances in House, Delayed in Senate

Legislation barring local governments from entering into any new contracts with traffic-camera enforcement operators has taken a step forward in the Tennessee House of Representatives.

But it may hit a roadblock on the Senate side in Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Tracy, a Shelbyville Republican, who has voiced opposition.

The Senate’s version of the anti-camera legislation, sponsored by Chattanooga Republican Todd Gardenhire, was postponed to next week.

Tracy promised that when discussion gets underway he expects “quite a bit of testimony on both sides on this issue” because “it’s not as simple as people think it is.” He believes debates about traffic cameras are best left to locals to decide.

The “Tennessee Freedom From Traffic Cameras Act,” sponsored in the General Assembly’s lower chamber by Dresden Republican Andy Holt, passed the House Transportation Subcommittee Wednesday on a voice vote. Reps. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, and John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, were recorded as voting “no.”

The bill, which has bipartisan support, would effectively ban the use of “unmanned traffic enforcement cameras” in Tennessee by prohibiting municipal and county governments from entering into new contracts with traffic camera operators, Holt said.

Also prohibited under the bill is violation-detection through the use of GPS or cellphone tracking of speed, which Holt told TNReport was included in the measure in anticipation of future developments in traffic enforcement technology.

Holt argued in committee that not only did traffic cameras likely cause more safety issues than they solve, but they’re also “constitutionally suspect.”

“Hundreds of lawsuits across the country have resulted in cessation of traffic cameras in many cities,” Holt said.

In mid-October, several cities in South Florida halted their traffic camera enforcement programs due to a state court of appeals ruling that found cities weren’t allowed to delegate law enforcement responsibilities to a third-party.  The third-party in question was American Traffic Solutions, which as of 2010 had several contracts in Tennessee.

Additionally, Holt complained that a good chunk of the revenue collected from the fines leaves Tennessee’s economy and is diverted instead into bank accounts belonging to out-of-state traffic camera operators. For example, in fiscal year 2013-14, cameras in the city of Murfreesboro “generated $1.16 million in revenue, but the city only collected $225,000 of that,” he said.

The legislation’s fiscal note denotes a negative impact of $978,000 to local revenues.

Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher spoke favorably before lawmakers Wednesday about the city’s camera program, which he said the city launched because of a number of youth unsafe driving deaths, despite other actions taken by the city.

The camera revenue provides funding for youth traffic safety courses, Fletcher said. Ending the camera enforcement program would eliminate funding for courses that have positive results for the safety of young drivers, and which were already full for the summer, he added.

Fletcher, who transferred to Chattanooga about a year ago from Austin, Texas, said that while speeding or running a red light is a criminal offense, the ticket is considered a “non-moving violation” — similar to a parking ticket — and is enforced as an administrative offense, putting the proof of innocence on the accused.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there are about 24 local governments that have deployed speed or red light cameras in the Volunteer State.