State Politics

House green-lights red-light camera bill

MANATEE — A bill allowing high-tech cameras to catch red-light runners passed 77-33 Friday in the Florida House of Representatives.

The vote brought the bill, a long-time goal of state House Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, to the brink of passage, as a similar bill could come up in the Florida Senate for a vote perhaps as soon as Monday.

House Bill 325 would set formal statewide parameters for use of the cameras, which snap images of violators in conjunction with traffic signals.

The measure carries the name of Mark Wandall, a Manatee resident who died in a crash caused by a red-light runner, Reagan told House members Friday.

“In the gallery, in the blue dress, is Mark’s wife, Melissa Wandall,” Reagan said. “She’s been truly an inspiration to me; she’s a constituent of mine; unfortunately, her husband died about a mile from her house, and a mile from mine.

“I would like to thank her for her efforts for the last six years,” he said, referring to many failures to pass a similar piece of legislation.

Opponents of the measure warned of yet another intrusion of government, and questioned whether it represented yet another financial fleecing of Florida citizens.

“This is nothing more than a revenue grab by the local governments on the citizens we represent,” said Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill, who was booed by his colleagues as he rose to speak. Schenck has proposed a competing measure that would prohibit use of the cameras.

Reagan argued the bill was simply a solution to a public safety issue. Any revenue produced through fines — estimated at close to $40 million for the state next year — was irrelevant, he said.

“While I’ve never ignored revenue, I never went into this with revenue in mind, never,” Reagan said. “I hope they never make a nickel.”

Rep. Clay Ford, R-Pensacola, noted that Americans enjoy many liberties, but that running red lights isn’t one of them.

Traffic accidents in his town dropped dramatically over six years with the use of a red-light camera, Ford said.

“All the money goes to traffic enforcement,” Ford explained about his town, adding, “I urge you to vote for this bill.”

Under terms of the bill, the fine for a non-criminal infraction would be $158.

A staff analysis last week estimated the measure would generate $39.6 million for the state in 2010-11 and $127.9 million in 2013-14. Local governments would get $16.4 million in 2010-11, and $91.9 million in 2013-14, it said.

Last year, a similar bill stalled in the Senate over how the revenue should be divided.

However, this year, a companion measure, Senate Bill 2166, was given good odds by Senate President Jeff Atwater.

“This may finally be the year,” said Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, earlier this week. “I think it’s going to happen.”

The bill states that those cited for violations would be able to view streaming video and a still photo of the intersection as the infraction occurred.

No citation would be issued without a law enforcement officer’s approval — camera vendors, for instance, would not be permitted to send tickets, nor would a manufacturer or vendor be allowed a fee or remuneration based upon the number of violations detected through the system, it said.

People photographed turning right on red without fully stopping would get the benefit of the doubt: No tickets would be issued if they did so in a “careful and prudent” manner, even if the driver failed to fully stop, the bill said.

The Associated Press and The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.