State Politics

Red light camera bill passes Florida House

MANATEE — The Florida House approved a bill Monday that would allow the official use of high-tech cameras mounted at intersections to catch those who run red lights.

A number of counties and cities have already installed cameras that snap pictures of red-light runners, but currently there’s no statewide law allowing them and no uniform fines for people caught in the act by the cameras.

The bill, H.B. 439, sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, specifies that the cameras are allowed and sets formal parameters for their use.

Among its provisions is a $150 fine per incident, with $90 of the proceeds earmarked for the local city or county to install, maintain and purchase cameras; $30 earmarked for health care and trauma centers; and $30 to go to the state general revenue fund, Reagan said.

“Now we just need to do it in the Senate. We’re trying to figure out when it might come up, hopefully tomorrow,” Reagan said Monday.

The measure is named “The Mark Wandall Safety Act” in honor of Mark Wandall, a Manatee County resident who died in an accident Oct. 24, 2004, at State Road 70 and Tara Boulevard.

The crash was caused by a driver who ran a red light. Wandall’s widow, Melissa Wandall, has pushed for four years for the legislation and this year seems on the verge of success.

Reagan amended the bill on the floor to change the way money collected from violators is earmarked. Under the amendment, fines assessed on red-light runners would go to the state’s general revenue account, lining the measure up with a similar one in the Senate, S.B. 2004.

Previously, the House had earmarked the money for places like hospitals, trauma centers and nursing homes. The bill passed 101-7 and now goes to the Senate. The Manatee County legislative delegation unanimously voted in favor of the bill.

Henry Stowe, lead activist for the National Motorists Association, said he was not surprised that the bill passed the House, and predicted that it would also pass in the Senate, given the “state’s desire to enhance revenue.”

He said that rather than decreasing accidents, the cameras could have the opposite effect. The cameras decrease the incentive to set the proper time on amber lights and also cause some drivers to slam on their brakes when they see a yellow light.

If the camera bill does become law, Stowe predicted that it would grow in unpopularity with the public.

Stowe said he would like to see voters able to vote on cameras in a referendum.

— The News Service of Florida and East Manatee editor Jim Jones contributed to this report.

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