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1/12/2011
South Carolina Legislature Takes Aim at Renegade Mayor
Ridgeland, South Carolina faces $2 million sanction from legislature for defying speed camera ban.

Senator Larry Grooms
The mayor of a tiny town in South Carolina ignored a state law passed specifically to prevent automated speed traps on Interstate 95. Now powerful legislators want to make Ridgeland and its mayor, Gary W. Hodges, pay for setting up photo radar vans on the side of the road in defiance of clear legislative intent. Yesterday, Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Larry Grooms wasted no time, introducing a bill remedy the situation on the first meeting of the 119th session of the General Assembly.

"Any law enforcement agency that issued traffic citations for a violation of a local ordinance or for a violation of traffic laws relating to speeding or disregarding traffic control devices, prior to the effective date of this act, based in whole or in part on photographic evidence whether gathered in conjunction with radar speed detection devices and whether the camera and speed detection system was manned or unmanned, must (1) identify each person who has received a citation and provide the person with a complete refund of all fines and assessments levied pursuant to the citation; (2) refund all court costs, attorney's fees, and reasonable expenses associated with defending the allegations raised in the citation; and (3) transmit to the state treasurer five hundred dollars for every citation issued to be credited to the account of the South Carolina Highway Patrol Division of the Department of Public Safety," S. 336 states.

The $500 penalty for each ticket issued would amount to a $2 million fine against Ridgeland. Grooms had no choice but to file the heavy-handed language after Mayor Hodges blew off warnings from the state attorney general indicating that the planned use of a speed camera was unauthorized (view opinions). Late in the legislative session last year, state Representative J Todd Rutherford (D-Richland County) learned of Ridgeland's plans. Because of the timing, Rutherford was only able to get a ban enacted into law by attaching it as an amendment to legislation dealing with golf carts during emergencies (view law). As a result, the ban was worded as banning automated ticketing "based solely on photographic evidence," except during golf cart emergencies. Hodges took advantage of a forced construction of this language to claim that the automated ticketing system operated by the private vendor iTraffic used non-photographic evidence because a police officer paid by iTraffic sits in an RV on the side of the road while the machinery operates.

Grooms made certain to address every potential loophole in the new legislation. He specifically requires police officers to directly hand any electronic ticket to a motorist. The bill bans the use of such tickets based "in whole or in part" on photographic evidence whether or not the device is attended or unattended. The state would fine any jurisdiction ignoring the ban $500 for each ticket issued. As chairman of the committee of jurisdiction, Grooms will decide when to hold a hearing on his own legislation.

A copy of the legislation is available in an 80k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File S. 336 (South Carolina General Assembly, 1/11/2011)



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