Press Releases

Holt Announces Push to Outlaw Red Light Cameras

Press release from Tennessee Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden; January 15, 2015:

NASHVILLE, January 15, 2015— State Representative Andy Holt (R-Dresden) says his constituents are sick and tired of being constantly watched by street cameras hoping to make a quick dollar off of them. Holt took to social media to ask voters in his district whether or not they were in favor of highly controversial speed and red light cameras.

“If I could single-handedly outlaw every speed camera in the Great State of Tennessee, I would do it without a second thought,” said Holt. “Regardless of political party, the vast majority of folks are 100 percent against them.”

Holt says he received hundreds of messages from Democrats and Republicans supporting his call to outlaw the controversial cameras that have been ruled unconstitutional in many states.

“Speed & red-light cameras are nothing more than a modernized form of speed-trapping. They have very little to do with safety, and everything to do with municipal greed. Apart from being a technically unlawful form of local fundraising off the backs of local citizens, it’s a poorly contracted scheme since a large portion of the “revenue” is sent elsewhere, outside the State of Tennessee,” Holt continued.

Holt says that many businesses in his district are concerned due to the fact that motorists are now avoiding streets where the cameras are located which is hurting their bottom line.

“In a depressed economic environment, I believe we should all be aware that money walks. This goes for all policy makers; federal, state & local. When people and businesses are over-regulated, they leave. I support these movements if necessary; that’s the basis of liberty & freedom as our founders intended, and Tennessee is currently a beneficiary of these movements from other states. We need to ensure that our state does not begin moving in the wrong direction by allowing folks’ rights to be violated so out-of-state businesses can collect revenue,” said Holt.

Holt says that some are upset and have accused him of being soft on crime.

“Some have argued against the calls to outlaw speed traps and redlight cameras by saying that I am being “soft on crime.” Let me be clear… I believe in the rule of law. Therefore, due process of the law. How can one ever claim to believe in the rule of law, set forth by our Constitution, if they willingly allow the rights of millions of Tennesseans to be violated by these cameras and traps? On Tuesday, I swore an oath to protect the Constitution of Tennessee and the United States of America, and that is exactly what I plan to do.”

Holt is planning to introduce a bill within the coming weeks.

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AG Says Traffic Cameras Pass Constitutional Muster

The state attorney general has issued another opinion stating that red-light traffic camera citations are constitutional.

The main question Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper’s office examined was whether or not the admission of photographic evidence violates the “Confrontation Clause” of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees that citizens accused of crimes have the right to confront their accuser in court.

“The Confrontation Clause embraces testimonial statements,” the Attorney General’s Office wrote in the opinion. “Photographs are not testimonial statements.”

The attorney general later expanded on that statement by citing the court case State v Williams.

“Because a camera is not a witness that is amenable to cross-examination, and because a photograph of a vehicle is not a ‘testimonial statement,’ introduction of the…photographs into evidence does not violate the Confrontation Clause,” the court ruled in that case.

The attorney general went on to say in the opinion “both the federal and state constitutional confrontation provisions are restricted, by their own terms, to ‘witnesses’ and do not encompass physical evidence or objects such as photographs.”

Cooper’s opinion is not considered binding law, but represents the government’s best guess as to how a court would rule if such a question would come before a judge.

Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, who requested the opinion said the attorney general’s staff seemed to have given the issues involved “a good, thorough looking.”

“I don’t know that he answered all of the questions I asked, but he answered enough for me to say that at this point (the cameras) are constitutional.”

“There’s no case law, so it’s difficult for him to opine any other way,” Shipley continued. “Once there’s case law, that may change the dynamics. As I told the mayor and Board of Alderman here (in Kingsport), I’m just going to listen to Chairman (Bill) Harmon’s subcommittee until there are federal rulings to know if it’s constitutional.”

Rep. Shipley said it is possible that he may ask Cooper for another opinion, since he does not believe the most recent opinion answered all of his questions.

Shipley’s request for an opinion included a dozen questions, including whether or not the camera systems replace the presumption of innocence with the presumption of guilt, and whether the systems create a lack of uniformity in state law among municipalities throughout the state that could potentially create a lack of equal protection.

The attorney general’s office did not address every one of Shipley’s questions directly, but instead melded them down into three questions: the Confrontation Clause, whether the penalties are civil or criminal in nature, and whether the ordinances create owner liability.

The attorney general’s office answered the latter two questions by referring to an AG’s opinion from 2008.

In that opinion, the attorney general cited City of Knoxville v. Brown, which said the red-light camera systems “did not violate due process by creating an impermissible presumption that the owner was the guilty party, did not violate owner’s right against self-incrimination, and did not violate owner’s right to equal protection.”

“Brown remains good law,” the attorney general’s office wrote in the most recent opinion.

Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, is sponsoring legislation that would prevent a municipality from entering into or renewing a contract with a private red-light camera vendor for two years. In addition, fines for first time violators would be reduced from $50 to $10.

Harmon has delayed pushing the legislation until a number of interested parties can meet as a subcommittee. They’re planning to have recommendations ready for the legislature by April. Among those involved in the talks are the Department of Safety, the Department of Transportation, The Tennessee Municipal League, the Police Chiefs Association, the Sheriffs Association, and traffic engineers.

Shipley said he’s neither for nor against the traffic camera systems, per se. He just wants to make sure that they are constitutional.

He believes the cameras have done “a remarkable job” of preventing certain types of accidents.

“We’ve not had a T-bone accident in a couple of years,” said Shipley. “Across the city, T-bones are down dramatically. We’ve had more rear-end crashes, but (the cameras) have safety benefits you can’t ignore.”

“Now that the attorney general has ruled they are constitutional, I just think we need to establish guidelines so the laws are uniform across the state, and then we need to get out of the way and let the municipalities handle it, and if people don’t like (the cameras), then they can deal with their mayor and aldermen at election time.

While Shipley seems satisfied the essential constitutionality of the cameras, he’s still not entirely trustful of the systems.

He tells a story of a 76-year-old man who paid a ticket he received in the mail. When his daughter checked her father’s finances, she noticed the violation took place while her father was undergoing a colonoscopy.

It turned out that he had left his car at a mechanic to have its brakes fixed, and the mechanic ran through a red light when he was testing out the new brakes on the car, according to Shipley.

“I also don’t like the idea of ‘guilty by convenience’ because someone doesn’t want to take the time or spend the money to challenge a ticket,” Shipley said.

Liberty and Justice News

Seeking Consensus on Traffic Cameras

Instead of slamming the brakes on red-light traffic cameras, House Transportation Committee members have tentatively agreed to try and hash out a three-part proposal to guide and regulate their use instead.

The rough plan, which includes a series of studies and a possible moratorium on new red light cameras, would give lawmakers more tools – and time – to decide the ultimate role the new technology will play in Tennessee communities.

Still, a number of lawmakers haven’t backed off their basic objections with the red-light cameras, saying both that the photos they take subvert civil liberties and that the private camera-vendors collect too much profit off the issuance of violations.

But the hope is to approve one comprehensive plan and move it through the Legislature, according to Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, who chairs the committee.

The panel batted around ideas Wednesday, including a plan by Maryville Republican Rep. Joe McCord to shuffle profits from citations to drivers education or trauma services statewide.

McCord, a vocal opponent of red light cameras, introduced legislation last year banning the technology. He has since dropped the ban, saying he now sees a safety value of the system, but he’s still uncomfortable with how the ticket-generated revenues are divvied up.

Many on the 12-member House Transportation Committee agree that the private traffic-camera service-providers currently have too much unchecked, profit-driven power over motorists.

The vendors capture alleged violations on camera, examine the pictures, cross reference the information with the Department of Motor Vehicles, then mail out the citations. In return, they receive the lion’s share of fines collected.

Harmon wants the state comptroller to take a hard look at the traffic cameras and report back to lawmakers on issues like what impact the systems have on vehicle crashes, the make-up of traffic-camera service contracts, and detail as to how citation revenues are spent.

Harmon also wishes to see the state Department of Transportation conduct an engineering study on each intersection proposed to use a traffic camera, and added he hopes to ban all unmanned speed cameras on state highways.

While many lawmakers on the panel generally seemed supportive of Harmon’s ideas, some still argue the cameras are unconstitutional and an invasion of privacy. “If it intrudes a little, it’s too much,” said Rep. Tony Shipley, a Kingsport Republican.

A study (pdf) by the free-market Tennessee Center for Policy Research released earlier this year argued that traffic-enforcement cameras are unwise, unnecessary and unsafe.

The City of Gallatin collected nearly $1 million in traffic citations linked to the traffic cameras in 2007, according to TCPR’s study. At least 16 Tennessee cities use some sort of traffic camera: Chattanooga, Clarksville, Cleveland, Gallatin, Germantown, Jackson, Jonesborough, Kingsport, Knoxville, Memphis, Morristown, Mount Carmel, Murfreesboro, Oak Ridge, Red Bank and Selmer.

“There’s a lot of money being made here,” said TCPR policy director Justin Owen, an attorney who co-authored the report.

Instead of installing cameras, he says lawmakers should require municipalities to extend the length of the yellow light, giving drivers more time to travel through the intersection instead of stopping short for fear of a traffic ticket.

“The mere presence of the watchful cameras encourages drivers to attempt to stop at yellow lights even if passing through the light would be safer. Coupled with a decrease in yellow light timing, this can readily explain the increase in the number of rear-end collisions that occur at intersections with red light cameras,” stated the TCPR report.

Rep. John Tidwell, an engineer from New Johnsonville, says he’ll push lengthening the yellow light next year.

The Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police maintains that the cameras help enforce the rules of the road, reduce crashes and generally improve safety, said Maggi Duncan, executive director. The association plans to push for the red light and speed cameras this legislative session.

The committee hopes to formulate an initial legislative proposal at their next meeting on Jan. 11.

Liberty and Justice News

Lawmakers Focusing on Possible New Traffic-Camera Rules

Traffic cameras may be growing in popularity among local governments and law enforcement agencies across the country, but some state lawmakers are questioning whether they belong in Tennessee.

Some say the cameras – which snap pictures when motorists drive through a stop light – are simply a tool to raise money.

“There’s no doubt that in some places it’s not about safety. It’s about revenue,” said Rep. Richard Floyd, a Chattanooga Republican.

House lawmakers examining the use of the high-tech traffic enforcement tools plan on introducing bills next year that could create statewide guidelines on the sorts of intersections where cameras could be used, and lengthening the duration of a yellow light before it turns red.

New Johnsonville Democrat John Tidwell, a civil engineer, said yield signals made one second longer will help reduce vehicle crashes, and he hinted he’ll push that issue in the coming session.

Also under discussion are laws to prohibit speeding-enforcement and stoplight-cameras completely.

The cameras are typically operated by private companies that set up the equipment, snap photos, evaluate violations and mail tickets to vehicle owners. Those organizations also receive a chunk of the revenues collected by violators, which is adding to the unease and outright opposition some critics are voicing.

Red-light cameras are under fire right now in a lawsuit arguing that traffic enforcement systems are operating illegally because they’re not properly licensed. Other suits attacking the practice have cropped up around the country.

Lawmakers Tuesday heard from Gordon Catlett, a patrol-support commander for the Knoxville Police Patrol Division who is a supporter of the cameras – and threat of a ticket – to change driver behavior.

“A lot of us treat a traffic signal like a yield sign,” he said.

The Transportation Committee will meet again Wednesday morning to discuss possible alternatives to traffic cameras, and ways to tinker with the system already in place.