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North Carolina Considers Criminalizing, Expanding Traffic Camera Use
Competing bills in the North Carolina legislature would make photo enforcement a criminal offense, or expand its use.

Sen. Don East
A North Carolina lawmaker on Thursday introduced legislation that would make it a crime to operate a red light camera or speed camera. State Senator Don East (R-Pilot Mountain), a twenty-year veteran of the Winston Salem police force, believes that it is not enough to pass a law that merely outlaws photo enforcement.

"It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a traffic control photographic system in this state," Senate Bill 187 states. "A violation of this section is a Class 1 misdemeanor and shall result in the forfeiture of any photographic system used for traffic control."

Although fifteen states have banned automated ticketing machines through legislative or court action (view laws), no state has ever included an enforcement provision as legislators generally assume municipalities and law enforcement officials will naturally comply with the law. The town of Ridgeland, South Carolina became one of the first jurisdictions to openly defy a state law banning the use of speed cameras. The South Carolina state Senate unanimously passed legislation on Thursday outlawing Ridgeland's program a second time, although specific penalty provisions were stripped from the legislation (view bill).

Under North Carolina sentencing guidelines, the class 1 misdemeanor that East's bill would impose on photo enforcement providers carries a punishment of up to 45 days of community service for someone with no prior record and up to 120 days in jail for someone with multiple prior convictions. The provision authorizing confiscation of illegal photo enforcement equipment would dissuade Ridgeland-style defiance in North Carolina if West's bill is adopted.

On the other end of the spectrum, a dozen Democrats in the state House joined two Republicans in introducing competing legislation that would authorize the use of speed cameras to generate revenue to pay a court judgment entered against the state. The state needs the revenue to erase a $748 million debt it owes to the public schools under a 2008 court ruling clarifying how a state constitutional provision requires traffic fine monies be distributed to the schools, not kept in state or local coffers.

A related case eliminated all but a handful of the state's red light camera programs. In 2007, the state supreme court upheld a ruling directing photo ticket fines to the schools, and almost a dozen municipalities canceled their red light camera contracts as a result (read final opinion).

AAA, which makes money from increased insurance rates on photo ticket recipients in Arizona, California and Illinois, has come out strongly in favor of the pro-speed camera bill. The lobbyist for AAA of the Carolinas, D. Bowen Heath, also happens to be a registered lobbyist for American Traffic Solutions in North Carolina.

A copy of East's camera ban legislation is available in a 20k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Senate Bill 187 (North Carolina Legislature, 3/3/2011)

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