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6/4/2009Tennessee Authorizes Statewide Freeway Speed Camera Program
Members of the Tennessee General Assembly misled into voting to authorize state-run freeway work zone speed camera program.
The Tennessee General Assembly on Tuesday gave final approval to legislation authorizing the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) and Tennessee Highway Patrol to ticket motorists on interstate freeway work zones using automated cameras. Although many members in the House and Senate expressed strong opposition to the concept of photo enforcement, the authorization measure passed by an overwhelmingly 80 to 10 margin in the House and 28 to 0 in the Senate. The support was due in no small part to the bill's wording, which granted authority to deploy cameras in the guise of restricting them.
"No surveillance cameras shall be permitted on federal interstate highways except for Smart Way cameras, other intelligent transportation system cameras or, when employees of the department or construction workers are present, surveillance cameras used to enforce or monitor traffic violations within work zones designated by the department of transportation; provided, that such cameras shall be operated only by a state entity," House Bill 1202 states.
The bill's main sponsors, state Senator Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville) and state Representative Joe McCord (R-Maryville) both claimed to be personally opposed to the use of cameras. They also insisted that this bill was the best "limitation" that could be made under the political circumstances. The bottom line, however, is that as soon as Governor Phil Bredesen (D) signs the bill into law, TDOT and the state police will be free to deploy cameras -- under one condition.
"They can't have the cameras in work zones unless it's a real work zone where people are working," Burchett said.
The bill serves no purpose as a limitation on local jurisdictions because no local authorities use photo radar on interstates. A secondary provision in the legislation mandating the use of warning signs likewise will make no change in current practice.
"According to TDOT and the Department of Safety, surveillance cameras are not currently used on interstates," the legislature's analysis of the bill states. "Most local governments that utilize cameras already post signs."
Burchett used the same deceptive tactic last year of "banning" practices that did not exist in order to give local jurisdictions authority to deploy red light cameras and speed cameras throughout the state. The bill became law on July 1, 2008. In House debate on freeway cameras Monday, the bill's House sponsor claimed that there were not enough votes to ban speed cameras.
"If it were up to me, I would like to see an outright ban of these cameras used in this state," Representative McCord said. "In order to get this bill out of committee... we made an agreement that unless the chairman of the subcommittee was comfortable with those that we would let no amendments go on because there is going to be a study committee this summer to deal with all these issues."
Subcommittee Chairman Vince Dean (R-East Ridge) made it very clear where he stood on speed cameras as he struck down an amendment by Representative Chad Faulkner (R-Luttrell) that would have imposed a true ban on all forms of photo ticketing.
"This particular amendment would hit hard in a section in my town where speed cameras have actually saved lives," Dean said. "We have documented proof to show where they have saved lives. But I promise you that we will look at this in our study this summer."
Representative Joe Towns (D-Memphis) was the only member to note something out of place about McCord's description of what was going on.
"Sponsor, first thing, I'd like for you to speak up a bit," Towns said. "It's almost like you're trying to hide something from me.... What are you all going to be studying in the summer? You're touting it as if it's actually deal with one of our colleague's questions that was posed earlier. What is going to come out of the summer study?"
McCord responded that the study would open the first public debate on the issue of photo enforcement, even though cameras have been in use for several years.
Tennessee General Assembly
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