State Politics

Bill prohibiting cameras at red lights advances


MANATEE — A bill that would prohibit the use of high-tech cameras by counties or municipalities to catch red-light runners passed a House committee Friday.

The bill, House Bill 1235, is contradictory to one filed by House Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Reagan, whose House Bill 325 would allow such cameras and would set statewide parameters for their use.

The cameras snap pictures of violators in conjunction with traffic signals. Reagan’s bill, versions of which passed Wednesday before both House and Senate committees, would assess a $150 fine per infraction.

Reagan, R-Bradenton, appeared Wednesday before a different House committee on behalf of his bill accompanied by Melissa Wandall, a Manatee County widow whose husband died in a violent 2003 crash caused by a red-light runner. Reagan argued his measure was simply an effort to solve a public safety issue.

Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill, sponsor of HB 1235, argued Friday that “to me, there are many arguments for doing away with red-light cameras.”

Schenck told the Economic Development & Community Affairs Policy Council in Tallahassee that while he does not condone red-light running in any fashion, he sought to spotlight the larger picture.

Red-light running and crashes have been decreasing, even without use of the cameras, he said. He advocated other ways of discouraging irresponsible drivers, such as longer yellow lights.

He cited privacy concerns and mentioned research that he said showed the number of rear-end collisions increase once cameras are installed. But Schenck said the bigger issue is revenue generated at the expense of citizens.

In the audience, representatives of the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties said they opposed Schenck’s bill, but it passed anyway.

Meanwhile, officials at the Florida Civil Rights Association and the National Motorists Association slated a protest for today in Lakeland, urging citizens to object to the devices.

“These cameras need to be banned, not sanctioned,” said J. Willie David III, president of the Florida Civil Rights Association.

In other action Friday:

n The Senate passed 37-0 the “Safeguard Our Seniors Act,” sponsored by state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton. The bill, Senate Bill 844, expands regulation of sales of insurance and annuity policies in an effort to reduce fraud.

n The Senate advanced a bill called the “Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Civics Education Act,” honoring the retired U.S. Supreme Court justice.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, requires civics education content that a student must master for middle grades promotion. The House has approved its version unanimously.

n Another bill sponsor- ed by Detert, Senate Bill 448, prohibiting text messaging while driving, is also advancing in the Senate. Its companion, House Bill 41, sponsored by state Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, still needs a few committee stops.

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