BRADENTON -- His parents came to America from Cuba in 1965 and, as he was growing up in Hialeah, near Miami, they talked to him repeatedly about freedom.
“I was brought up every day on the fact that our liberties and freedoms can be taken away in a heartbeat,” said Rene Garcia, now a Florida senator. “I was told you have to fight every step of the way. If we allow one thing, it’s a slippery slope.”
Freedom is the real reason, said Garcia, why he announced last week that he is filing a bill for the upcoming state legislative session to repeal the red-light camera law.
It is the same law tirelessly fought for and achieved by Bradenton’s Melissa Wandall, whose husband was killed by a red-light runner at State Road 70 and Tara Boulevard, and by Manatee resident and Florida legislator Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, last year.
Garcia believes the cameras are the first step toward a police state where freedoms are stripped one by one. For him, this is a line drawn in the sand. He says his decision to file the bill is not political. He says it is from his gut.
“I truly believe if we allow this to continue, cameras will pop up all over the place,” Garcia said. “The next step is red-light cameras for speeding violations and, what’s after that, a citation for changing lanes illegally, without blinking? I don’t think our forefathers thought we should be a police state.”
Garcia sure to have fight
Garcia’s repeal plan is sure to get a fight in the Florida Legislature, which is already short millions of dollars due to budget shortfalls.
The red-light cameras are bringing in revenue in Bradenton and all over the state.
For the upcoming fiscal year, red-light cameras in Florida counties and cities are expected to generate $100 million, Reagan said recently.
Since red-light cameras were adopted by a city ordinance in Bradenton in 2008, the cameras have generated 5,761 tickets and, according to calculations by the Bradenton Herald, roughly $334,714.
The money has gone right into the city’s coffers to be used in any way city officials deem necessary, said city spokesman Tim McCann.
Before July 1, 2010, the city of Bradenton received $92.50 out of each $125 ticket with the remainder going to Affiliated Computer Services, the Xerox-owned company that maintains the cameras and generates the photographs of license plates as cars go through red lights.
Since the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act for red-light cameras passed last year, the city gets $75 of each $158 ticket, with the rest going to a roughly $18,000 per month camera fee to Affiliated Computer Services and a portion to the state, which divides it in several areas, including the Miami Project, a program for research into brain injuries suffered by vehicle accident victims.
The 5,761 ticket figure provided by the city of Bradenton does not indicate how many were issued after July 1, 2010, when the Wandall bill passed and the ticket pricing structure changed. Based on an average of $83 between the two time periods and figuring a 70 percent paid ticket rate, which Bradenton Police Department officials have confirmed, that generates $334,714 for the city.
Reagan: Garcia misinformed
“I think he is way off base,” Reagan said this week of Garcia. “A recent study has shown that over a five-year basis, lives are saved by red-light cameras. I think Senator Garcia just doesn’t understand the true safety issues.”
Reagan also rejects Garcia’s suggestion that red-light cameras make Florida into a police state.
“Let me tell you the absolute truth,” Reagan said. “If you are on a public highway, there is no expectation of privacy. You are expected to obey the law. If you obey the law, you will never get a ticket.”
The red-light camera bill that Reagan fought for passed overwhelming in the Florida House and Senate, and Reagan feels confident Garcia’s bill won’t get traction.
“Why would you transfer the revenue needs we have from law violators to the innocent people of Florida,” Reagan said. “I don’t think the Florida Legislature will reward lawbreakers.”
Wandall is equally as put off by Garcia’s bill.
“It’s really sad,” she said this week. “By doing this, he will take money out of his own pocket. That’s because $3 from every ticket that is generated by these cameras goes to The Miami Project for brain and spinal injuries, which is based in Senator Garcia’s area.”
“I feel this is just politics,” Wandall added about Garcia. “He’s just being political. He’s not using common sense.”
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.