4/11/2014Maryland General Assembly Gives Up On Speed Camera Reform
Instead of reforming speed camera program, Maryland lawmakers enshrine the status quo.
With high-profile problems plaguing Maryland's speed cameras over the past few months, critics of the program assumed lawmakers would have no choice but to adopt reforms this year. Over 70,000 innocent motorists were found to have received speeding tickets in Baltimore after an audit of the tickets revealed those accused were not actually speeding. Instead of tightening standards, the General Assembly on Monday gave final approval to legislation that codifies the existing practices of speed camera companies and localities. The Maryland Drivers Alliance is calling the effort a reform in name only.
"This bill was written by local governments like Montgomery County with the goal of letting lawmakers take credit for 'reform' while actually changing nothing," Ron Ely, the group's chairman, told TheNewspaper. "State lawmakers hope this snow job will be enough to get them through the next election and that people will forget about the industrial scale miscarriage of justice that has been exposed."
Throughout the state, 45 local jurisdictions use automated ticketing machines to raise $70 million a year in revenue. The state freeway speed camera program generated an addition $16.4 million in profit from the more than 1.4 million tickets issued.
The bill clarifies that a "school zone" must be a location where kindergarten through twelfth grade students are found. It takes the city employee who works with the private speed camera contractor and requires him to go through a state-run training program. The new "ombudsman" can cancel tickets, but only after informing city leaders. It adds new requirements for signs. It allows a private contractor to issue five percent of tickets to innocent motorists before that company must pay the city a $20 fine.
Given the number of tickets issued statewide, that means the new law allows up to 300,000 innocent motorists to be ticketed each year. Attempts to provide stronger protection for motorists were rejected.
"We offered amendments to do things like ensure that defendants could confront the operators in court and allow images to be used as exonerating evidence if they proved an error," Ely said. "The legislature refused to consider any of them."
The one serious change in the bill takes the existing prohibition in the law on per-ticket contract compensation that jurisdictions have completely ignored and makes it clear that the language applies to all speed camera contractors. Yet even this provision has no effect because all existing contracts are grandfathered in through June 1, 2017 under the new legislation.
House Bill 929 was promoted by lobbyists for the speed camera industry, the Maryland Association of Counties and AAA Mid-Atlantic. AAA has boosted the photo ticketing program from the beginning since, as one of the nation's largest automobile insurance providers, it profits from every photo enforcement citation issued in states that impose license points.
House Bill 929 adopted unanimously in the state Senate and by a 115 to 20 vote in the House of Delegates. The bill will take effect June 1 if signed into law by governor Martin O'Malley (D). A copy is available in a PDF file at the source link below.