State Politics

Bills designed to catch red-light runners advance

MANATEE — Bills that would set statewide parameters for use of high-tech cameras to catch red-light runners Wednesday won committee approval in both chambers of the Florida Legislature.

A big delegation of supporters from Manatee and Sarasota counties was on hand at one of the Tallahassee committee hearings to back House Bill 325, sponsored by Florida House Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton.

Among those speaking in favor were Reagan and Melissa Wandall, a Manatee County widow whose husband, Mark, was killed in a 2003 accident caused by a red-light runner.

“This is simply about saving lives, and about education,” Wandall told the House of Representatives’ Finance and Tax Council.

She asked members for their support on behalf of her family and all those who have lost loved ones due to the negligence of red-light runners.

Reagan described a 30-day study done in Manatee and Sarasota counties that focused on three intersections where cameras snapped images of motorists blowing through red lights. Signs informed drivers of the cameras’ presence, and violators got warnings, rather than citations with fines, he said.

“We cut our red-light running in half immediately, and had zero rear-end collisions in those days we ran those cameras,” Reagan said.

The committee approved the bill 12-1.

A similar version, Senate Bill 2166, also won approval 8-1 Wednesday before the Senate’s Community Affairs Committee, chaired by state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton.

The Senate measure still has one committee stop; in the House, a floor vote is the next order of business.

Another House bill, HB 1235, would take a contradictory stance, prohibiting the use of the cameras by counties and municipalities to enforce traffic laws, but it was not considered during the two committee sessions Wednesday.

Several House members questioned aspects of Reagan’s bill, asking whether people turning right on a red light would be cited, whether the cameras would violate personal privacy, and how revenues would be allocated.

Reagan told the panel, “I’ve never ignored the fact that revenue is part of this,” but cautioned that it was above all an effort to solve a public safety issue.

The measure is needed so that the way the devices are used, and the revenue they generate from fines, would be uniform across the state, Reagan said.

The House bill would authorize counties and municipalities to enact ordinances permitting the use of the cameras, with fines set at $150 per violation, Reagan said. He emphasized it would be a noncriminal infraction that would not result in points assessed against the operator’s driver’s license.

A staff analysis estimated the measure would generate $39.6 million for the state in fiscal year 2010-11 and $127.9 million in 2013-14; and $16.4 million for local governments in fiscal year 2010-11, jumping to $91.9 million in 2013-14.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.