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6 July 2010

Red-light camera backlash brewing

via Grits for Breakfast by Gritsforbreakfast on 7/6/10

Following up on the Texas Tribune's publication of statewide red-light camera revenues, the writer Theodore Kim at the Dallas News has a pair of notable stories (thanks to the reader who notified me) on the growing public backlash against red-light cameras, highlighted most recently by a plebiscite in College Station to take them down.
A grassroots backlash against the cameras is growing, says the News:
In Texas, College Station voters last fall forced their city to take down its cameras. Houston opponents say they have enough petition signatures to put the cameras to a vote this fall. And the Texas House of Representatives last year passed a measure that would have phased out the cameras. Though it failed in the Senate, camera opponents say they plan to try again.

"There is a backlash, for sure," said state Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr., D-Corpus Christi, who co-sponsored the anti-camera push. "City budgeters are counting on these fines as a revenue stream and simply using the argument of safety as cover."

Don't know how I missed the College Station vote. The News could have added that in 2008, Lubbock discontinued use of cameras after accidents increased at intersections using them. The article also provides no update on provocative litigation (which I assume is still pending), where a judge said in December 2008 that the companies operating cameras in Texas weren't properly licensed. The Dallas News linked to the class action suits when they were filed, but I don't know where they are in the process and can't find any recent coverage.

The News also found that lobby reports filed with the state:

do not include money that the companies may have spent on lobbying efforts in cities such as College Station and Houston, which have grappled with local ballot initiatives related to red-light cameras.

Jim Ash, leader of College Station's anti-camera movement, contends that American Traffic Solutions spent a significant sum to keep red-light cameras in the city.

George Hittner, vice president and general counsel for American Traffic Solutions, said the company does not view its advocacy efforts as lobbying but as "more of an education program."

Finally, at the end of the main story, a lobbyist for red-light cameras made this interesting argument:
Jim McGrath, a consultant who works for a group tied to Houston's camera vendor, American Traffic Solutions Inc., said red-light cameras are easy targets for criticism. After all, he said, they raise the specter of Big Brother and "are something everyone can identify with."

But he added, "If these cameras were catching child molesters, we would insist on having them on every corner. ... Critics who say this is just a money grab are really saying that the city of Houston is being too efficient at enforcing the law."

Awhile back I'd posed the second-hand question, "if it were possible to construct a machine that would allow detection of every law violation and ensure 100% enforcement, should the machine be built?" Red-light cameras are just such a machine aimed at one crime (out of thousands) at a particular location. Judging from the College Station vote, the general public appears far less than certain 100% enforcement of the law is a good idea.

Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

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