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Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

Legislature Making Cash Grab on Red Light Cameras

If you recall, a couple of years ago City Council passed legislation (2007-1131) which allowd the City to install unmanned cameras, more commonly known as red-light cameras, at various intersections throughout the City.  The way the program would work, the City would share ticket revenues with the red-light camera company to pay for their equipment and services.  Jacksonville had planned on using their share of the money to pay for more police officers.  Jacksonville was just one of the many cities establishing the program at the time. 

However, there were a couple of hangups – Gov Charlie Crist had issued an opinion in 2005 (in his former role as Attorney General) that Florida law required an officer to witness the violation.  In addition, the State claimed that red light cameras could not be placed on lights on State roads (which also have much of the traffic and the red-light running problem) and so cities were forced to consider putting the cameras on local roads or private property instead. 

Unfortunately, the Legislature’s idea of a solution to the issue in 2008 was that they would take a cut of the revenues produced by the cameras.  According to a TU article at the time, under Senate Bill 816 proposed in 2008, violators would pay $60 for each of the first three tickets rather a minimum of $125 – and local governments would collect only about $30 per ticket with the state pocketing the rest.  A fourth offense would bring a $125 fine, but state trauma centers would get $65 of that amount.  That bill died in committee. 

As it turns out about  30 cities and counties have now steered around the ban by placing the cameras on local roads or on private property and by issuing code-enforcement-style violations instead of traffic fines.  Of course, this upset several legislators as their cash cow was getting away from them, and so under the guise of creating uniform surveillance rules, the Legislature has proposals in front of them to regulate the use of red light cameras.  But really, it’s all about the money.  Because when it comes to safety, the state wants its cut, according to the Palm Beach Post.

House Bill 439 would give the state $60 of the $150 ticket. The rest would go to local governments. The bill got hung up Tuesday in the Senate because it wouldn’t provide for paying the companies that install the cameras and collect the fines. The sponsor of the Senate version, Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, estimated that the contractor would get $40 to $70 per ticket.

Whose pocket would it come out of? Not the Legislature’s; it’s setting the rules. At the same time, amendments in the Senate would give the state a bigger share of the take, up to half. A staff analysis says that $30 per ticket would produce more than $50 million a year.

The state ensured itself a role by banning cities and counties from erecting cameras along state roads. To make the cash grab more palatable, the state would assign half of its take to health care. It’s not unreasonable for the state to dictate uniformity in red-light citations, as it does for other moving violations, such as speeding. But the cash grab shows that revenue in a tough year really is the motivating factor.

The cameras raise privacy concerns as an unnecessary increase of surveillance in public spaces. While designed to create safer intersections, they also have been criticized for causing accidents. Some drivers slam on the brakes to avoid a ticket and get rear-ended. Advocates call those collisions the price that must be paid from reducing the far more deadly mid-intersection crashes.

The cameras are technology’s answer to a cop on every corner. Their stealth enables them to catch drivers who otherwise would not be caught. Here, though, the state has been caught putting cash over safety.

UPDATE:  The red light camera bills failed.  The Senate and House couldn’t agree on how to split the graft.

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Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, ,

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