State Politics

Red-light bill backers vow to fight on

MANATEE — Supporters of a bill that would have set statewide parameters for use of high-tech cameras to catch red-light runners expressed disappointment Tuesday at the demise of the proposal last week in the Florida Legislature.

“I’m going to get things ready for next year,” said sponsor Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, the House speaker pro tempore, after the bill was derailed over a money issue with leaders of the Florida Senate during the final stages of passage.

The Manatee County legislative delegation was unanimous in its support for the red-light camera bill.

Reagan said the bill is dead for this year, for all practical purposes.

The bill’s most ardent supporter, Melissa Wandall, the Tara widow who has appeared in Tallahassee each year since her husband died in a traffic accident, said she is not willing to abandon her campaign.

Late Tuesday she canceled a press conference she was planning for Friday about the measure’s demise, in hopes she might be able to resurrect it somehow before legislators vote on a final budget later this week and adjourn, she said.

“This is a bigger issue than many people realize,” said Neil Spirtas, vice president of STOP Red Light Running Coalition of Florida, Inc., a nonprofit organization supporting the bill.

The bill, the Mark Wandall Safety Act, was named in honor of Wandall’s late husband, Mark Wandall. He was killed in October 2004 at State Road 70 and Tara Boulevard by a red-light runner.

With her husband gone, Melissa Wandall has pushed each year for the camera bill, only to see it stall just before passage this year.

She became a familiar figure in the Capitol and her dedication earned her many friends there. Among those who were affected by her devotion to her cause was state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Sarasota, who had opposed such bills originally, but was won over after Wandall appealed for her support, Detert said.

Supporters of the bill argued that the use of the cameras statewide would save lives. The bills did have opponents, too, who argued that Florida was inching closer to a Big Brother or police state scenario with use of cameras to watch over the public.

The plan would have set parameters for counties and municipalities statewide to install cameras that would click images of cars in the act of running red lights.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908 or at skennedy@bradenton.com.

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