Just two years after state lawmakers passed a law that allowed the use of red light cameras on Florida streets, a House committee reversed course and approved a bill that would banish them.
The House Economic Affairs Committee narrowly approved HB 4011 by a 10-8 vote, underscoring just how divisive the public safety program is.
“I believe (cameras) save lives,” said Rep. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze. “But the problem is there’s something about being confronted after committing an act. When you’re in Indiana, or Illinois, and you visit our state, and two weeks later you get a surprise in the mail, that doesn’t change behavior. That makes you mad.”
The odds are long that the bill will get much further. It heads to House Appropriations next. Law enforcement agencies, who get paid a portion of the millions that are made from the cameras, oppose it. As do counties and cities that starved for revenues following the worst recession in memory.
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But on Thursday at least, it was a victory for Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, the initial sponsor of the bill. A nurse, Campbell said the vast majority of her constituents are seniors or are living in poverty, and a single ticket would burden them with a hardship they can’t afford. She disputes that cameras make streets safer, and alleges that many of them target low income areas.
“I know our community voted for us to be here,” Campbell told the 18 member committee. “The voters voted for you to come here. You have to be in anyone’s pockets. You have to be here for your citizens.”
Her appeal worked mostly with libertarian-leaning Republicans. Each of those in support of Campbell’s bill were Republicans.
“I’m not for growing government,” said the committee chair, Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City. “So I haven’t like the proliferation of these cameras, especially when you’re profiteering from them.”
Of the nine who voted against the bill, six were Democrats.
“My wife got a violation and it changed her behavior,” said Rep. Mark Danish, D-Tampa. “That made me support cameras even more, because they really do save lives.”
Campbell’s campaign against the cameras is either a quixotic one, driven by a romantic urge to lift the afflicted in her Miami district, or a self-serving one. Or both.
But Campbell faces a credibility problem. She and her husband were slapped last year with $145,000 worth in liens and her family has come under increased scrutiny for mortgage and Medicaid fraud. When the Times/Herald asked her last week if she was sponsoring HB 4011 because her husband's Honda Odyssey minivan had racked up five violations since 2010, she said she only knew about one violation and doubted the video and photographic evidence that the other violations had happened.
Rather than objecting to a program that has cost her household, Campbell said she’s pushing for a camera ban because of her constituents, who she says want the cameras gone. Several of them called the Times/Herald this week to complain about the cameras after a story about her husband's violations was published.