1/20/2012Florida House Backs Down on Red Light Camera Fight
Florida panel guts legislation that would have secured due process rights to vehicle owners accused by a camera.
The Florida legislature came close to banning the use of red light cameras last year. The state House voted 59 to 57 in favor of overturning the 2010 statute permitting the use of automated ticketing machines, but municipal and traffic camera lobbyists were successful in blocking the bill in the Senate.
This year, the anti-camera effort has returned, but a vote last Wednesday suggests photo enforcement opponents face an uphill battle. The House Transportation & Highway Safety Subcommittee voted 10 to 3 to gut the Florida Motorist Rights Restoration Act, which would have offered a number of protections for the owners of vehicles accused by a red light camera.
The measure would have required unannounced, third-party testing of the camera's accuracy every six months. Currently, there are no procedures in place for verifying the accuracy of a camera. The private, for-profit vendors who own and operate the machines self-certify the accuracy of their own products. The bill would have established a $500 penalty against any city or traffic camera vendor that issues a ticket from an inaccurate, untested device. The prosecution would also have the burden of establishing the guilt of the accused.
Subcommittee members were not interested. They stripped all of the motorist protections and replaced the measure with one that deals with rare cases of a vehicle owner filing an affidavit claiming someone else was driving the vehicle. The bill ensures the second recipient would get a "notice of violation" instead of a traffic citation carrying court costs.
Groups like the National Motorists Association supported the original version of the bill, although it wanted a provision mentioning speed cameras struck out.
"Short of a full camera ban, this act will at least help to curb the inevitable abuses that occur when government agencies focus more on revenue generation than on protecting citizens' rights," the group wrote in a message to Florida activists. "We support this legislation and encourage you to as well."
Camera opponents, nonetheless, were divided because of a line stating that photo radar devices would be subject to the testing requirement. Because speed cameras are not authorized under Florida law, the language would be seen by the court as the legislature's approval for their use, which is the very technique used by Tennessee lawmakers to bring red light cameras and speed cameras to the state.
Other legislation pending before the legislature would encourage longer yellow times as well as an all-out repeal of the red light camera authorization bill.