Jim Jones' Eastword column: Flimsy rationale proposed to justify repeal of red-light camera bill

February 17, 2013 

A Miami lawmaker has filed a bill that would repeal the use of red-light cameras on Florida streets.

Reasons cited by lawmakers for repealing the red-light bill, according to a Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau story, include:

n A red-light penalty arriving in the mail two weeks after the infraction might make our visitors mad.

n Senior drivers are on fixed incomes and can't afford to pay the bill.

n Government is too big and needs to be downsized.

One has to question the motives of Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, who filed the bill and got a House committee to go along with her on a 10-8 vote.

The Campbell family's Honda Odyssey minivan has racked up five violations in the last couple of years.

The odds seem long against Campbell and eventual repeal of the red light camera law, according to the report.

But you never know.

I have a couple of thoughts about Campbell and the other lawmakers who support repeal.

Campbell should be the last lawmaker filing such a bill, if her family really does have so much difficulty obeying the law. She shouldn't have filed the bill for reasons having everything to do with credibility and conflict of interest.

Our visitors unhappy about getting a bill in the mail for running a red light? Gee, I don't know of anyone who is happy to get one of those, including the good folks who live in Manatee County.

Senior drivers on fixed income can't afford the bill? I'm sure that's correct, but somehow it's not my impression that they are the ones doing most of the red-light running. Besides, drivers of any age who break the law had better be prepared to pay the penalty. Whether there is a red-light bill or not, running a red light is illegal.

Government too big? Yep, it's too big, too inefficient, too unresponsive.

But repealing the red-light camera law? Not really what I would see as a valid first step in reforming government.

I fear that the creativity, the wisdom, the will, and the cooperative spirit are lacking at the state and federal levels to bring about needed change.

The movement toward a red-light camera bill started right here in Manatee County, when Tara resident Mark Wandall was killed by a red-light runner one night 10 years ago on State Road 70.

His wife, Melissa Wandall, then 8- 1/2 months pregnant, took up the cause of trying to do something to curb rampant red-light running. And even more importantly, to save lives.

That's the bottom line. Not to harass anyone, not to impose insufferable and obnoxious penalties, but to get drivers to slow down, to stop, to save lives.

Melissa Wandall fought five years for passage of a red-light bill, picking up the key support of then-state representative Ron Reagan of Bradenton.

In 2010, then-Gov. Charlie Crist came to Manatee County and signed the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act before a packed house at the Lakewood Ranch Office of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.

"This is not the life we would have chosen," Melissa Wandall told those who gathered for the ceremony.

Indeed, Melissa Wandall still grieves for her husband, and the father that her daughter Madison would never know.

If she could have it otherwise, Mark would still be with her in person, and not just in spirit.

We can only hope that her tragedy and will to make something positive out of something so terrible is saving lives through the Mark Wandall Safety Act.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021 or tweet@jajones1.

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