State Politics

Senate panel OKs red-light strategy

MANATEE — After a passionate plea from a Manatee widow, a state Senate committee Wednesday OK’d a proposal to authorize the use of high-tech cameras to catch drivers who run red lights.

“I had the distinct pleasure of being married to Mark Wandall for a year and five days; I was nine months pregnant when this crash occurred,” said Melissa Wandall, 41, of Bradenton, whose husband was killed in October 2004 by a red-light runner.

“My daughter was not allowed to know him, and he was not allowed to know her,” she said.

“It’s about saving lives,” she added during testimony before the state Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, meeting in Tallahassee.

Also speaking in favor of the bill was state House Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, who Tuesday prevailed upon a state House committee to pass a companion measure he sponsored.

The plan would allow counties and municipalities statewide to use cameras to click images of cars in the act of running red lights.

The proposals also would earmark part of the fines assessed to pay trauma centers, hospitals and nursing homes.

On Wednesday, Reagan carefully addressed questions from senators about how long amber lights should be, whether there were precautions against abuse, and how to notify the public of the presence of cameras.

“One thing we’re trying to do with this bill — we’re changing people’s behaviors,” Reagan told the committee. “When they see the amber, they actually slow down.”

State Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville flatly stated, “I hate this bill — I have hated this bill for years.”

However, the possibility it might produce revenue during a year when the usual sources of money have dried up swayed him, he said. “I find myself between the dog and the fire hydrant,” King explained.

The committee voted unanimously in favor. Also appearing at the meeting to support the bill was Neil Spirtas, vice president of STOP Red Light Running Coalition of Florida, Inc., a nonprofit organization.

Spirtas, who is also vice president for public policy and small business at the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, said afterward, “It’s another small victory, the big one is still yet to come. It’s a key committee because once we get it through two in the Senate, it’s a very powerful message.”

The measure still has a couple of stops in the Senate and one in the House before it reaches the floor of the chambers, which could be sometime next week, Reagan estimated.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908 or at