3/29/2013Florida: Politician Takes Camera Cash, Guts Camera Reform Bill
Politician who took $1000 in red light camera donations torpedoes photo ticketing reform bill.
An attempt to rein in the use of red light cameras in the Florida state Senate has fallen flat. A senator who has taken money from red light camera vendors converted a bill that would have cracked down on abusive practices by municipalities into legislation that will enable them to issue even more photo citations. A dispute erupted on Facebook over the weekend as to whether state Representative Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) gutted the legislation because he took $1000 in campaign cash from American Traffic Solutions.
"Joe, I've supported red light cameras since I was mayor in 2007," Clemens wrote in response to Joe Jordan on the social media website. "My support pre-dates any contributions I've ever received. So, in essence, they donated to my campaign because I believe in them as an enforcement tool, not vice versa. Please don't cast aspersions. We may disagree, but that doesn't make me corrupt."
As introduced, Senate Bill 1342 would have made substantial changes to the way red light cameras are used in the state. The first section of the bill focused on due process, ensuring the person driving the ticketed vehicle would have the same rights as the vehicle's owner to defend himself without, as under current law, having the violation be converted into a formal citation that carries license points. It also would have prohibited right-turn-on-red tickets issued by a camera. It would have clarified that the burden of proving guilt falls on the municipality and prohibited the vehicle owner from being compelled to testify against himself.
The second section of the original bill would have increased the minimum duration of the yellow signal at a camera intersection by ten percent. A 35 MPH intersection would have seen yellow increase from 3.6 to 4.0 seconds and a 45 MPH intersection from 4.3 to 4.7 seconds. Compliance would be enforced by imposing a $500 fine and mandatory refunds for cities caught ignoring the statute.
Last week, Clemens ripped up all of those protections for motorists and replaced them with protections for red light camera companies. The amended version of SB 1342 now states that dropping a traffic citation in the mail constitutes "notice" of the violation, regardless of whether the citation is ever actually received. It also states that the red light camera is automatically presumed to be reliable. An existing law discourages issuance of right-on-red tickets with cameras, but Clemens would eliminate any hesitation by allowing to be issued in nearly every case by allowing the private vendor to issue tickets in nearly every case. The vendor just needs to be able to claim that the vehicle appeared to be traveling at 10 MPH or more before turning.
Politicians who serve photo enforcement companies are often richly rewarded. Former Florida state Rep. Ron Reagan, who was responsible for passing the state's red light camera law, received a job at the National Coalition for Safer Roads, a front group funded and operated by ATS.