State Politics

Senate OKs red-light camera bill

TALLAHASSEE — After five years of trying, state lawmakers have agreed on a bill that would authorize the use of cameras to ticket violators at red lights.

The Florida Senate Tuesday sent a bill to Gov. Charlie Crist on a 30-7 vote to sign into law.

It’s a long-fought victory for Melissa Wandall, whose 30-year-old husband, Mark Wandall, was killed by a red-light runner near his home in 2003 at the intersection of Tara Boulevard and State Road 70.

The bill is named in his honor and Wandall has led a campaign to persuade lawmakers that the cameras would serve as a deterrent and save lives,

“We have to make sure the governor signs it.... It’s not so much about punishing drivers, but educating them to stop on red,” Wandall said. “It really is a safety bill. And for me, it’s been a reason for what happened. .. It was six years ago. It seems like yesterday.”

The Housed passed the bill (HB 325) Friday. It now needs Crist’s signature before becoming law.

“The governor has generally supported the use of red-light cameras in the past,” said Sterling Ivey, the governor’s press secretary. “It is an issue that he has looked upon favorably in the past.”

If Crist signs the bill, a driver ignoring a red light who is caught on camera will be fined $158, but will not have points added to his driver’s record. Insurance companies will not be allowed to increase premiums for violations.

Motorists who ignored traffic signals in Florida were blamed for 76 deaths and injuries to 5,607 people in 2008, according to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

“(The bill) is all about public safety. It adds uniformity across the state of Florida,” said Bradenton Police Department Traffic Sgt. Brian Thiers. “It will force us all to do it the same way. You won’t have municipalities making different ordinances.”

State economists estimate the state will receive more than $29 million in the first year and nearly $95 million in the 2013-14 budget year. Local governments are expected to receive $10 million in the first year and nearly $66 million in 2013-14.Local governments would get $75 of the $158 fine and the state the remainder. Ten dollars of the state’s share would go to health care and $3 to the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis for brain and spinal cord research.

Many Florida communities have already installed the cameras at busy intersections, albeit under questionable legal authority.

The city of Bradenton currently has three red light cameras installed and faces a lawsuit waged by West Palm Beach attorney Jason Weisser.

“I think the bill passing is a good thing. It actually raised a lot of the issues we raised in the lawsuit, but it’s not going to affect the law suit we’ve filed,” Weisser said Tuesday afternoon, noting a retroactive provision was not included.

Weisser currently has approximately 20 lawsuits filed against Florida municipalities concerning red light cameras and local ordinances.

“I think the biggest thing now is we have uniformity, as opposed to the wild west before where each municipality was doing its own thing,” he said. “There are still a number of constitutional violations that are present they have not addressed ... such as shifting the burden. The (vehicle) owner is now guilty and he has to prove he’s innocent.”

Thiers said the city is in the process of installing another camera and looking at other sites. If the bill is signed, municipalities would be able to install cameras at intersections without gaining permission from nearby property owners.

The Bradenton Herald set aside part of its property for the first red light camera in the city limits at the intersection of Manatee Avenue and First Street.

“We’re set to have a total of 10 cameras,” Thiers said. “Whether there’s more in the future — why not?”

Beth Burger, Herald Staff reporter and The Associated Press contributed to this report.