5/22/2009Texas Cities Defy House Attempt to Ban Red Light Cameras
Cities of Arlington and Southlake, move to skirt pending Texas ban on red light cameras.
At least two Texas cities are openly defying the will of the state House of Representatives which earlier this month voted 107-36 to ban red light cameras. Texas lawmakers, unlike their counterparts in other states, decided to allow cities with existing red light camera contracts to keep issuing citations until those contracts expired on their own. The proposed law would then prohibit any new contracts after June 1.
This week, the cities of Arlington and Southlake took a slap at that generous exception. Arlington's city council on Tuesday unanimously decided to change the city's five-year contract with American Traffic Solutions into a twenty-year contract. Long-term photo contracts are rare in the US as cities -- such as Scottsdale, Arizona and Washington, DC -- prefer to have the ability to switch contractors to ensure a competitive bidding process. Arlington decided to bind future councils for nearly twenty years after a debate that lasted a full twenty-five seconds.
"I'd like to make a motion to approve 7C5 with the additional stipulation that we limit staff's ability to negotiate and execute the modification with American Traffic Solutions to include an out for the city," the only city councilman to speak on the matter said.
The Southlake City Council likewise ordered the city attorney to work on a long-term contract extension with Australia's Redflex Traffic Systems. If the experience of other states is any guide, however, Arlington and Southlake could find their clever move backfire. In a similar circumstance last month, a number of Montana state lawmakers were incensed by cities attempting to adopt new contracts before a legislative deadline for a camera ban containing a large exception.
"We saw a couple municipalities rush to get contracts signed before the effective date of the bill -- which I found offensive," Montana state Senator John Brueggeman (R-Polson) said.
Montana legislators fired back by stripping the exceptions and imposing a total ban.
Arlington city leaders are not only defying the state House, they may also be defying the will of voters. Although the city's residents have never had the opportunity to vote on the issue of red light cameras directly, they came close in February 2003. Fifty-eight percent of voters had shot down a bond package known as Proposition 6, the first time a bond proposal for expanding street capacity had ever been rejected in the city. The most controversial aspect of the proposition was setting aside extra money for surveillance "traffic cameras" which critics at the time said would serve as a precursor to red light cameras. Nine months later, the bond measure was split into two distinct provisions and placed once again on the ballot. When asked in a separate vote to spend $400,000 for "traffic management cameras," 64 percent of voters said "no."
The full Texas Senate must now weigh in on the question of whether red light cameras should be banned. If state senators disagree with the House attempt to ban cameras, a conference committee will be called to work out a compromise measure before sending the final bill to the governor for his signature.
A copy of the Arlington proposal for a longer contract is available in a 30k PDF file at the source link below.