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Stoplight Camera Legislation a Go?

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Tracy said he’s hopeful legislation will come out of the General Assembly this year that enacts uniform statewide regulatory standards governing the operation of traffic cameras by local law enforcement agencies.

The Shelbyville Republican told TNReport recently that after two years of start-and-stop discussions he believes there’s been enough on-the-record examination and deliberation of the issues involved to green-light legislative action this session.

Tracy indicated he opposes kicking the can down the road by sending the issue back into study-committee mode.

“It is a complicated issue, no question about that,” said Tracy. “But the more I got into it, the more I realized we do need to come up with a uniform policy.”

While Tracy said he does hear voices advocating that cameras be outlawed altogether, there’s enough support among local cops and officials that an outright statewide ban  — at least of the busy-intersection surveillance variety —  probably isn’t in the cards.

He added, though, that he perceives substantially more citizen anger and steadfast opposition directed specifically at speed-enforcement cameras.

Under legislation Tracy said he’d likely support, counties and cities could still ban red-light or speed cameras within their jurisdictions if pressured to do so by their constituents.

“I have met with communities across the board, and I want to make sure (camera-use) is about safety, and not about revenue enhancing,” said Tracy, who, along with House Transportation Committee Chairman Phillip Johnson, R-Pegram, will play a key role in moderating traffic camera debates and molding whatever legislation might ultimately alight on Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk.

Tracy said he’s open to supporting legislation that prohibits local jurisdictions from entering into agreements with camera vendors wherein the company is paid a per-ticket fee by the city or county.

“Even though they may not be doing it as an incentive to write more tickets, (in) the perception of the public it is,” said Tracy. “So if the community would pay a monthly fee to the vendor, instead of on a per-ticket basis, it takes that out of the question. Of course, some of the folks are not going to be happy with that.”

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety this week released a study (pdf) claiming that red-light cameras save lives.

According to an IIHS press release:

Red light cameras saved 159 lives in 2004-08 in 14 of the biggest US cities, a new analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows. Had cameras been operating during that period in all large cities, a total of 815 deaths would have been prevented.

…Looking at the 99 US cities with populations over 200,000, the researchers compared those with red light camera programs to those without. Because they wanted to see how the rate of fatal crashes changed after the introduction of cameras, they compared two periods, 2004-08 and 1992-96. Cities that had cameras during 1992-96 were excluded from the analysis, as were cities that had cameras for only part of the later study period.

An article critical of the study also appeared this week that suggested IIHS employed an “overly simplistic (research) method” and purposefully skewed the findings to support the political objectives of major automobile insurance firms that support the organization.

A recent review of traffic camera safety by The Economist showed inconclusive effectiveness.

Liberty and Justice News

Traffic Camera Debate Revived, Vote Delayed

Attempts Tuesday and Thursday by numerous House members to attach amendments dealing with traffic cameras has slowed the progress of a bill originally meant to expand the services automobile clubs can legally provide.

Rep. Charles Curtiss, the Sparta Republican who is sponsoring the HB 2875, has resisted efforts to allow most of the amendments offered to be attached to the bill, but members continue to try to add traffic camera amendments to the bill. The parade of amendments led Curtiss today to put off consideration of the bill on the House floor for a second time this week.

So far, members have tried to attach roughly 10 amendments on to the bill relating to traffic cameras, but the only one that has successfully been attached up to this point has been an amendment sponsored by Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville. His amendment, approved on a vote of 86-7, prohibits the placement of traffic cameras on highways receiving state funding unless the location of the camera is approved by a county or municipal legislative body on two readings, caps fines at $50, and prohibits charging for court costs unless the ticket is actually challenged in courts. It also puts a ceiling of $50 on late fees per ticket.

McCord said he originally wanted to go farther, but that after talking with several members, they “felt local governments would be adequately responsible for the expansion and accountable to the public” with the amendment.

The move by McCord came just over two weeks after a compromise traffic camera regulation bill that had been gaining traction in the House was killed by a Senate committee. Members on that committee complained that they had not been part of the talks to shape the compromise House bill.

The House later defeated an amendment that would have put an outright ban on traffic cameras in the state.

That amendment was brought by a sheriff’s deputy, Rep. Charles Faulkner. A Republican from Luttrell, Faulkner said “if they were utilized for public safety, they would be in school zones…not on a four-lane stretch of highway in the middle of nowhere. They are using these things for revenue-generators, and that’s it.”

His amendment was defeated after Curtiss said he was afraid the amendment would cause the Senate to kill his bill.

The bill was soon thereafter delayed during debate of an amendment sponsored by House Republican leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol.

That amendment would have dealt with one traffic camera specifically near a town of about 1,000 that Mumpower said “sucked out…over a quarter million dollars a month” from the economy of East Tennessee, with more than half of that money going to the company that runs the camera, which is partially foreign owned.

“It’s not only sucking it out of Sullivan County, and it’s not only sucking it out of Tennessee, but it’s sucking it out of the United States,” Mumpower said, later adding that the tickets take money out local residents’ pockets and discourages tourists from returning to the area.

When other members indicated they would like to come forward with similar amendments, Curtiss asked that the bill be put off until Monday night before a vote could be taken on Mumpower’s amendment.