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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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"Tools of the Devil," Florida Bill Banning Red-Light Cameras Yellow-Flagged

TALLAHASSEE – Red-light cameras, those never-blinking machine eyes at intersections, foster ominous Orwellian chills among many but, for Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, they literally represent evil.

Red-light cameras are the vanguard of commercial automated law enforcement, with profit- driven vendors offering municipalities no-cost contracts that promise high returns in exchange for a share of citation revenues.

As such, Brandes said, red light cameras are merely one technological advance in the eternal struggle between good and evil, serving as “tools of the devil to tax poor people.”

Brandes has submitted bills the last two legislative sessions seeking to outlaw red light cameras in Florida.

His 2018 bill never received a committee hearing while his 2019 proposal, with less than a month left in the session, was scheduled to make its debut hearing before the Senate Infrastructure & Security Committee on Tuesday.

Brandes voluntarily requested the temporary postponement of Senate Bill 622’s hearing before the panel, citing time constraints and calling red light cameras “tools of the devil.”

It is uncertain if Brandes’ reference to time constraints was in context of the committee meeting or relating to a legislative session that is rapidly winnowing away toward its May 3 adjournment.

SB 622 needs three panel approvals before the April 23 committee cut-off date, beginning with the postponed hearing before the Senate Infrastructure & Security Committee, which is not scheduled to meet in the next 10 days.

A pre-emption bill, SB 622 seeks to overturn the 2010 "Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Program" law, which authorizes municipalities to use red light cameras on their streets and roads.

By rescinding local governments’ capacity to contract with red-light camera vendors, SB 622 proponents say they are essentially giving state drivers a tax break.

According to the Revenue Estimating Conference [REC], if red light cameras were outlawed, state and local government fine revenues would decline by $160 million a year by 2023.

The legislative analysis of SB 622 indicates that fewer state municipalities are opting to go with red-light cameras, down from 68 jurisdictions in June 2016 to 49 jurisdictions two Junes later.

According to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, statewide there were 508 “active” red-light cameras on June 30, 2018 - 121 fewer than the previous year - with 310 intersections equipped with red-light cameras, 99 fewer than the year before.

In addition to Orwellian creepiness and questions about the transitory adaptability of “tools of the devil,” Florida’s queasiness with red-light cameras is bolstered by data questioning vendors’ safety claims and still-unresolved legal questions.

According to SB 622’s analysis, numerous studies of the impact of red-light cameras on crashes and fatalities have produced “contradictory” results.

In 2014, the state’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Governmental Accountability [OPPAGA] cited “many” studies reviewing red-light camera safety effectiveness which “concluded that there is no well-accepted consensus on whether red light cameras are effective at improving public safety because of wide variation in research techniques and considerations,” the analysis states.

Red-light cameras have had a yellow flag history in Florida’s courts.

In October 2014, the Fourth District Court of Appeal [4th DCA] dismissed a red light camera citation, holding that a city had improperly delegated its police powers when it contractually outsourced its statutory obligations to a red light camera vendor.

The 4th DCA found that the contractual process was not the equivalent of a traffic infraction enforcement officer issuing the citation, “especially when it is the third-party vendor that controls what information is, or is not, made available for the officer’s consideration.”

In April 2015, the Florida Supreme Court declined to hear the city’s petition for review.

In July 2016, however, the 3rd DCA ruled the review of red-light camera images authorized by Florida law does allow a city’s vendor, as its agent, to review and sort red-light camera images to forward to law enforcement for citations.

This piece appeared in the Watchdog.org and was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

Photo: Shutterstock.com

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