State Politics

Local widow pushing for red-light bill

TALLAHASSEE — Melissa Wandall, the Tara widow whose husband died in a traffic crash caused by a motorist who ran a red light, held a press conference at the Capitol Tuesday urging passage of HB 325, the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act.

Wandall supports this year’s version of a bill that would set statewide guidelines for the use of high-tech cameras to catch red-light runners, and create a more uniform system of enforcement and penalties.

“The point of the press conference was to rally everyone around,” said Wandall. “We had a lot of support there.”

Among those supporters was bill sponsor, Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton , the Florida House Speaker Pro Tempore.

“This is about public safety,” Reagan said. “This is about giving our law enforcement an additional tool to save lives. Cameras are here already, and they are here to stay. This bill will establish a uniform standard throughout the state.”

Reagan’s bill, which would allocate the proceeds of fines from violators to trauma centers, certain hospitals and nursing homes and health units and programs, Tuesday passed a House committee unanimously 14-0.

But though House Republicans may be in lockstep on many issues, red-light cameras could be an exception.

State Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill, has filed an opposing bill, House Bill 1235, that calls for banning red-light cameras as intersection traffic enforcement tools.

Along with Schenck’s opposing bill, there was a “Red Light Camera Day of Protest” Saturday sponsored by the Orlando-based Florida Civil Rights Association, the National Motorists Association, and Ban The Cams.Org. Protests were held at various places, including Apopka, Orlando, Palm Coast and Temple Terrace, according to a press release issued by J. Willie David III, president of the Florida Civil Rights Association.

David called on lawmakers to ban red-light camera ticket enforcement, arguing that private camera companies and local governments have scammed millions of dollars from motorists using illegal ordinances in the name of public safety, calling it “an outrage and a disgrace to justice.”

Henry Stowe, state activist for the National Motorist Organization, said Tuesday he opposed Reagan’s bill for a variety of reasons.

Among them were his view that it’s a violation of a basic constitutional right stating that one is presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law; and a citizens’ right to a trial before a judge or an independent hearing office - -not, he complained, a city employee.

“Secondly, I believe there’s no independent evidence that these devices reduce accidents and fatalities,” Stowe said. “Rather, they pose a danger to public safety — the volume of crashes increases when red-light cameras are installed.”

Attending Wandall’s press conference were supporters representing law enforcement, hospitals, trauma centers, physicians, local government officials, and members of families affected by the negligence of red-light runners. Among the crowd were Manatee County Commissioners Carol Whitmore and John Chappie.

Reagan’s bill has garnered support from the Florida League of Cities; the Florida Association of Counties; the Florida Sheriffs Association; the Florida Police Chiefs Association; the Florida Hospital Association; the Florida College of Emergency Physicians, and the Florida Health Care Association.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031. The Tallahassee Bureau of the St. Petersburg Times/ Miami Herald contributed to this article.