7/27/2017Ohio Supreme Court Overturns Fake Ban On Speed Cameras
Ohio lawmakers cannot have it both ways under a Supreme Court ruling saying speed cameras are an all or nothing proposition.
Politicians hate to make the sort of choices that might alienate key constituencies. In Ohio, lawmakers knew voters opposed speed cameras after the devices were rejected at the ballot box in eight cities. At the same time, state representatives and senators did not want to offend city politicians who depend on photo ticket revenue to balance the budget. The Ohio Supreme Court weighed in Wednesday by tossing out the General Assembly's 2014 attempt to have it both ways by passing legislation that was commonly reported as a "ban" on speed cameras, even though it still allowed cities to run as many speed cameras as they liked (view bill).
A majority of justices reasoned that a number of superficial limitations on the ability of municipalities to use speed cameras served no legitimate state purpose. The 2014 law imposed requirements similar to those set by statute in other states, such as requiring safety studies and public information campaigns prior to starting a camera program. The law also prohibited tickets for cars photographed allegedly traveling 5 MPH or less over the limit in school zones.
What cities really objected to was the requirement that a live human police officer sit near a speed camera while it generates tickets. This increased the cost of running the program, and the court majority found that to be unconstitutional because it does not serve an overriding statewide interest.
"As to whether [the 2014 law] serves an overriding statewide interest, the state contends that [it] represents a legislative compromise: it is not an outright ban on traffic cameras, but it establishes cameras as secondary enforcement tools so that the officers do not have to stop every violator," Justice Patrick F. Fischer wrote for the majority. "However, requiring an officer's presence at a traffic camera directly contradicts the purpose of a traffic camera -- to conserve police resources."
The court majority asserted the General Assembly's arguments for the other common restrictions were "unpersuasive." Because state law tried to have it both ways by accepting speed cameras as legitimate, it cannot water down their implementation without infringing the home rule authority of municipalities.
Justices William M. O'Neill and R. Patrick DeWine blasted the "rudderlessness" of the majority's reasoning, saying their colleagues were acting as lawmakers imposing their personal preference on the populace. The Ohio constitution, the dissenting justices explained, says if a law that applies equally throughout the state conflicts with a municipal ordinance, state law wins.
"The result today seems to have everything to do with the policy preferences of the majority and nothing to do with the language of the Home Rule Amendment," the dissenting justices wrote. "Nothing in the amendment makes the constitutionality of a legislative enactment turn upon this court's best guess about what is in the state's interest."
Justice O'Neill said he personally found the fake ban on speed cameras to be "absurd," but he insisted the justices should not be allowed to overturn any law they personally find distasteful. In this case, the law was meant to address valid concerns that cameras were being used as a revenue grab.
"The lead opinion apparently doesn't share the concern about the misuse of traffic cameras," the dissenting justices wrote. "But that should not make the legislative compromise invalid. Indeed, the question left unanswered by the plurality is why it is better suited than the legislature to determine what is in the overriding interest of the state."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 130k PDF file at the source link below.