Red light cameras could be coming down

Courtesy of Panama Post

Senate Transportation Chairman Jeff Brandes' latest proposal to drive red-light cameras out of Florida made its way through its first committee Friday.

Senate Bill 168 was backed by the Senate Transportation Committee in a 4-3 vote along party lines, with opposition coming from local government lobbyists and the Florida Police Chiefs.

Brandes' measure would repeal a law known as the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act of 2010 and, as a result, prevent local governments from using the cameras for traffic enforcement.

Brandes, a republican from St. Petersburg, debated that local governments use revenue from the cameras as a hidden tax increase and that intersections are not made safer by any changes to driving habits related to the cameras.

"The simple truth is red-light cameras don't increase safety, that they're essentially a revenue-generation tool," Brandes, who has repeatedly sought to revamp and unplug the cameras in recent years, said.

Previous measures have sought to lengthen the time for yellow lights and to improve signs at intersections. In 2014 Brandes put the brakes on a proposal to prevent local governments from using the cameras when he wasn't able to line up enough votes in support.

Democratic members of the committee, like Sen. Oscar Braynon of Miami, said local governments should maintain the option to use the cameras and that the technology changes driving habits for the better.

"I've had one red-light ticket. And after I got it I never got another one because I stopped doing it, and that was probably like three or four years ago," Braynon said. "So I kind of believe personally that they work."

A staff analysis of the bill noted that numerous studies have been conducted on the safety impact of red-light cameras and state that the studies are contradictory.

Sen. Geraldine Thompson of Orlando said the measure goes against local control.

"I think it continues to take us down the road of thinking that we know best here in Tallahassee, rather than the people who represent the cities and represent the counties and are closer to the people," Thompson said.

Scott Dudley, Florida League of Cities legislative director, took exception to Brandes saying municipalities use the cameras as a tax source.

"You called these a hidden tax," Dudley said. "I think it's a hidden tax that can be easily avoided by not running a red light. If you don't do it, you don't pay the tax."

Dudley added that the league doesn't support or oppose the technology, but it argues local governments should maintain the option to use cameras.

Owners of vehicles photographed going through red lights are subject to $158 fines. For each fine, $75 is retained by the local government and the rest goes to the state Department of Revenue.

State numbers indicate that 75 jurisdictions operated red-light cameras in the most recently completed fiscal year.

SB 168 has two more committee stops.