Florida lawmakers are advancing legislation to outlaw red-light cameras statewide, above objections from local police chiefs and city and county officials.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, argues that the devices — which capture driving infractions at certain intersections and later result in sometimes costly tickets to motorists — have “essentially no safety benefit.” He said they serve to do little more than line local governments’ pockets with extra revenue.
“It’s a backdoor tax increase on citizens who often can’t afford to pay it, and you’re making intersections less safe,” Brandes said.
Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, agreed: “I don’t like the cash register they’ve become, either.”
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But the Florida League of Cities and other government representatives defend the devices as an option to deter traffic violations and safeguard drivers.
“It’s a hidden tax that can be easily avoided by not running a red light,” said Scott Dudley, the league’s legislative director, in response to Brandes.
Brandes’ bill (SB 168) to prohibit local governments from using red-light cameras got its first approval by a Senate committee Thursday morning, with all Democrats opposed.
In the House, the effort is a little more bipartisan, with Reps. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, and Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, pushing HB 4027 together. It received its first favorable vote two weeks ago, also with some Democratic opposition.
Artiles said at a press conference later Thursday that red-light camera programs have been “veiled in safety” for years but data don’t back that up. He said local municipalities are “basically padding their budgets” by collecting fines from drivers.
The state legalized red-light cameras in 2010.
But a growing number of municipalities — including North Miami Beach and, just last week, Gulfport near Tampa — have voted to turn off their cameras or have stopped using the devices altogether in the face of public backlash, lawsuits and court rulings that found the devices could violate constitutional rights.
It’s a backdoor tax increase on citizens who often can’t afford to pay it, and you’re making intersections less safe.
State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg
Last year, the Florida Supreme Court declined to take up an appeals court’s ruling on a lawsuit challenging how the city of Hollywood used red-light tickets. The court said the Broward County city’s outside vendor had been given, “for all practical purposes,” the power to decide which motorists were ticketed, when the city bears that responsibility.
“It’s the cold, calculated nature of this I find most objectionable,” Brandes said Thursday. “They [the cameras] don’t offer us the human side of law enforcement. They’re completely and utterly machine-driven.”
But Democrats on the Senate Transportation Committee objected to what they called “an expansion of pre-emption” by the state. They also questioned the validity of state data Brandes presented to demonstrate proven increases in accidents at intersections that have the cameras.
We’ve seen people alter their behavior once they get a citation for running a red light.
State Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando
“It’s working in Orange County. We’ve seen people alter their behavior once they get a citation for running a red light,” Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, said.
Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, said he thinks they’re effective — having been ticketed himself, he admitted — but he said cities should have the power to decide for themselves. That is what cities want, too.
The league “supports the ability of cities to use that tool” as a public-safety measure, Dudley said, arguing that the larger traffic safety problem is cellphones and distracted driving.
“That’s really what the Legislature should be looking at,” he said.
Brandes’ bill has two more committee stops before it could reach the Senate floor. Artiles and Jacobs’ bill has one more committee to clear in the House.
The proposed law wouldn’t take effect until 2019 to allow time for municipalities’ contracts with vendors to expire, Brandes said.