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1/11/2011
Washington: Lawmaker Proposes Referendum on Traffic Cameras
Washington state considers requiring longer yellows, public approval for photo enforcement programs.

Rep. Christopher Hurst
The Washington state legislature will take a serious look at reining in the use of red light cameras and speed cameras during the session that began yesterday. House Public Safety Committee Chairman Christopher Hurst (D-Enumclaw) wants the public to decide whether cameras should be used and has introduced House Bills 1098 and 1099 to make that happen.

"I have heard from countless people around the state about how upset the abuse of these systems makes them, and after seeing how other cities in other states have used these cameras to balance their budgets on the backs of drivers while shortening yellow light times, I am committed to seeing reforms past," Hurst wrote in a message to constituents. "I was able to get this bill a hearing last session, and will continue to work until it's passed."

In the previous legislative session, Hurst's approach was to offer a bill cutting the maximum fine amount from $124 to $25, setting the minimum yellow time at four seconds and allowing a vehicle owner to file a written statement of denial to avoid paying a ticket. Municipal lobbyists, fearing the loss of millions in fine revenue, were able to block the legislation. This time around, Hurst has a new approach.

Supporters of photo enforcement regularly insist that the devices are popular and enjoy widespread support in the community. Traffic camera companies frequently cite opinion surveys to back up this claim. Both of Hurst's bills take supporters at their word and would require cities wishing to install cameras to obtain permission from residents in a referendum. In November, 71 percent of residents in the city of Mukilteo voted against the use of red light cameras in the first test of camera popularity in Washington.

"A local legislative authority that adopts an ordinance allowing for the use of automated traffic safety cameras must submit the ordinance to the voters within its jurisdiction at the next general election," the proposed bills state. "The ordinance must be approved by the voters before automated traffic safety cameras may be used within the jurisdiction."

Camera supporters also insist that the devices are about safety, not revenue. Hurst's bills take two different approaches to test whether this is actually the case by preventing cities from exploiting technical, split-second violations for profit. The city of Seattle, for example, shortened the duration of yellow at its camera intersections by half-a-second in 2008. One of Hurst's bills would solve that problem by requiring yellow signal times to be lengthened by one second, an approach that succeeded in Georgia and Ohio. The other bill would require a one-second grace period before a photo ticket can be issued.

"Public safety should never be about profit," said Hurst, a 25-year veteran of law enforcement.



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