8/11/2015Ohio Cities Lose Challenge To Traffic Camera Restrictions
Ohio Court of Appeals says municipalities must respect state law limiting the use of photo enforcement devices.
Ohio cities that sought to keep their photo enforcement systems issuing tickets without restriction had their hopes dashed Friday. The state Court of Appeals shot down a lower court ruling that had given municipalities confidence in defying the will of the General Assembly and governor. State lawmakers insisted that a police officer be present somewhere near the operation of any red light camera or speed camera and that a city conduct a safety study before installing such a device (view law).
Dayton led the charge against these mild restrictions, becoming the first jurisdiction to defy the state law when it took effect in March. Dayton followed up with a court challenge claiming the statute interfered with Dayton's "home rule" authority. Local judges were quick to side with municipalities and declare portions of the law unconstitutional and unenforceable.
The General Assembly did not take this defiance lightly. State lawmakers took the extraordinary step of enacting a budget that withholds state funding from cities that fail to comply with the law, effectively bypassing the jurisdiction of the local judges. On Friday, the three-judge appellate panel said the local judges had clearly overstepped their authority.
Under Ohio's constitution, municipalities are free to adopt and enforce rules within their jurisdictions, but those rules must not conflict with general laws. To keep its cameras, Dayton had to argue that the state's restrictions on photo ticketing were not "general." In rejecting this line of reasoning, the appellate court cleverly cited the 2008 state Supreme Court case upholding municipal red light camera programs as the precedent needed to shoot down Dayton's argument (view 2008 decision).
"If the state can constitutionally limit a municipality's ability to set its own speed limit in the interest of creating a comprehensive, statewide uniform statute regulating the speed of motor vehicles, it can also create a similar statewide uniform regulatory scheme governing traffic law photo-monitoring devices," Judge Mary E. Donovan wrote for the unanimous panel.
Since the restrictions are not targeted to any particular municipality and apply equally throughout the state, they fit the definition of a general law that does not violate home rule authority. The trial court came to a different conclusion because it had read isolated provisions of the law out of context.
"In light of the foregoing analysis, we find that Senate Bill 342 provides for a uniform, comprehensive, statewide statutory scheme regulating the use and implementation of traffic law photo-monitoring devices in Ohio, and was clearly not enacted to limit municipal legislative powers," Judge Donovan concluded. "Upon review, we conclude and reiterate that the statutory scheme contained in Senate Bill 342 is a comprehensive one enacted to insure that traffic law photo-enforcement is implemented and regulated in the manner which best serves the statewide public interest and its citizenry."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 90k PDF file at the source link below.